This week the “gritty” “fascinating” “illogical” “thriller” The East debuts at Sundance. The film stars Brit Marling as an ex-FBI agent hired by an evil corporation to infiltrate an eco-anarchist group. Watch this while I try to take some deep breaths and calm the fuck down.
The film’s writers Marling and director Zal Batmanglij did not exactly do in-depth research before embarking on the project. They could’ve read Green is the New Red, or gone to a protest action. Instead they spent a summer dumpster-diving. From the Huffington Post:
In reality, Marling and Batmanglij — who previously teamed up for the 2011 Sundance entry “The Sound of My Voice” — seem to have nothing but wide-eyed admiration for the people they met during their summer off the grid. “You learned how to hop trains, but you also learned how to take things that are given away to the service industry back for yourself,” Marling said. “In many of these collectives, you’ll learn: How do you fix your bike? In fact, how do you build it from scratch? If you have a car, how do you convert it to biodiesel? How do you learn homeopathic remedies from weeds you can forage from dumpsters?”
They were foraging weeds from dumpsters. This should tell you all you need to know.
“Marling and Batmanglij’s experience among real-life ‘travelers’ helps give the film authenticity,” says one of the most generally clueless articles I’ve ever read at the (generally clueless) Huffington Post, which ends with the filmmakers saying that the glorious dirty angels they encountered were “so happy, and not in a simple way” and also “very handsome.”
Indiewire says the film is likely to alienate red-state audiences, and that it will be “fascinating to see how activists respond.” But they’ve got things completely flipped. Most conservatives love to imagine activists as terrorists, especially post-Occupy, and their understanding of the radical left is about as shallow as the film’s, if less forgiving.
Yes, it’s fiction, and yes, Marling and Batmanglij may have sympathy for pretty dumpster divers, but ultimately The East only goes to reinforce destructive stereotypes of not just activists, but an entire political community that’s been targeted by the government and big business for decades, despite rarely engaging in property destruction, and never being murderous. Anna, anyone?
Another film debuting at Sundance that may be a little less simple in its portrayal of modern activism: 99%, a documentary about Occupy Wall Street, follows a real movement surveilled by real federal agents, who are a lot less like Brit Marling’s character in The East and a lot more like this: