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Alumni Films Featured in Sundance Film Festival - Georgetown College
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Alumni Films Featured in Sundance Film Festival
January 20, 2011
Although Georgetown might be famous for its appearance in the classic horror film The Exorcist​, alumni working in the independent film industry are changing the university’s relationship to the silver screen. This year, four films selected for the 2011 Sundance Film Festival were directed, written, or acted in by Georgetown alumni.
Several alumni debuting work at this premier festival for independent film began their movie-making careers on the Hilltop. A trio of best friends—Mike Cahill (C’01), Zal Batmanglij (C’02), and Brit Marling (C’05)—met at Georgetown and created two of the films featured in the festival. While Batmanglij was majoring in English and Cahill in Economics​, they enrolled together in a character screenwriting class with Professor John Glavin. Batmanglij credits that class for laying many of the foundational elements he has used in his professional career. “It has taken me years to understand the stuff Professor Glavin was teaching in his scriptwriting classes,” Batmanglij said. “But what he taught—an obsession with story, with crafting it like a puzzle, not only plot-wise but psychologically—has become a part of the way I see moviemaking.”
After he graduated from Georgetown, Batmanglij studied at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, CA. For the festival at Sundance, which runs January 20-30, he wrote and directed a film called Sound of My Voice, which tells the story of a young couple who infiltrate the innermost circles of a dangerous cult. The film has been named an “Official Selection” of the Sundance Film Festival.
Fellow Hoya Brit Marling, who co-wrote and produced Sound of My Voice, also plays the cult’s enigmatic leader. As a freshman at Georgetown, Marling remembers being awed by a film Cahill and Batmanglij showed at a university festival. “Zal and Mike made a film that was unlike any other – colorful, poetic,” she explained. “When they got on stage…I thought, ‘I want to know these people.’” Marling, while double majoring in Economics and Art, took a leave of absence during her senior year to travel with Cahill to Cuba, where the pair shot their first feature-length film. The finished documentary was called Boxers and Ballerinas​, and explored the story of athletes and artists who have the rare freedom to travel outside of Cuba’s communist state.
While Boxers and Ballerinas received positive critical reviews upon its release in 2004, it is Cahill and Marling’s 2011 film, Another Earth, which is generating significant buzz at Sundance. The film was selected as one of 16 movies featured in the festival’s Dramatic Competition. Marling stars as a brilliant MIT student who causes a deadly accident on the night that a mirror planet, or second Earth, appears in the sky. Cahill, who co-wrote the script with Marling and directed the film, explained that as the science-fiction romance unfolds, it explores the accident’s aftermath and the existential question: what would it be like to confront yourself?
Regardless of how Another Earth fares in competition, the premiere of both movies at the festival suggests a bright future for the group of friends. Associate Dean Bernie Cook, who is also the director of the new Film and Media Studies Program​, taught all three students during their undergraduate years. He remarked, “I am so pleased that Mike, Brit, and Zal have been recognized by the Sundance Film Festival as dynamic emergent talent.” Likewise, Professor Glavin noted that participation in the festival is a great reward for their years of independent filmmaking. “The three of them have become a kind of mini film industry,” Glavin said. “This of course is their wonderful breakthrough after 10 years of steady and inventive work.”
Also screening at the festival is Rebirth, the story of five individuals whose lives intersect in the aftermath of 9-11, directed by Jim Whitaker (C’90). The film, which follows the reconstruction of Ground Zero and debuted at Georgetown this past September, has been selected as one of the festival’s Documentary Premieres. Likewise, Thomas de Napoli (C’01) and Kevin Joyce (C’02) have written and produced the first music video to be selected for the U.S. Narrative Shorts Competition. Their video for Das Racist’s "Who’s that? Brooown!” is styled as a 1980’s video game, and was named one of Rolling Stone’s Best Videos of 2010.
--University Communications, with additional reporting by Jessica Beckman
Photos from top: Brit Marling (left) stars in Another Earth; Marling plays a cult leader in Sound of My Voice; Kevin Joyce and Thomas de Napoli created a gamer's music video. 
Photos courtesy of Rachel Morrison and Heidi Sullivan, Sundance Film Institute. 
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