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Christopher Denham and Zal Batmanglij Talk About ‘Sound of My Voice’

Sound of My Voice is perhaps one of the most anticipated indie releases of the year, having garnered attention from various film festivals in 2011.  As has been posted by fellow Arts America writer Alex A. Kecskes, the film centers around two documentary filmmakers, Peter and Lorna, who infiltrate a cult led by Maggie, a woman that claims to be from the year 2054.

In anticipation of the April 22nd release, Arts America sat down with star Christopher Denham and director/co-writer Zal Batmanglij to find out a little bit more about how this film came together.

Batmanglij first met co-writer/star/producer Britt Marling while they both were students at Georgetown University.  In describing the creative process behind Sound of My Voice, Batmanglij said, “Britt and I wanted to tell a story that would entertain each other.” The directory readily admitted, “We didn’t worry too much about the rules [in terms of how] things are supposed to be done in writing a screenplay or making an independent film.”   When Maggie reveals herself for the first time, she pulls back her veil and stares directly into the camera, a technique that normally frowned upon in conventional filmmaking. While Batmanglij acknowledged that the movie “breaks many rules,” the effect of Maggie’s direct stare is both chilling and effective.

In terms of searching for the perfect cast, Batmanglij “wanted to have a cast of excellent actors.” Yet, as an independent film, both he and Marling knew they “didn’t have the resources to get people to read our script or take us seriously.”  Therefore, they chose another method.  Batmanglij said, “We found movies we loved and looked for people who were amazing, but who were not necessarily the leads of the film. ”

Nicole Viscius won the part of Lorna  after impressing both Marling and Batmanglij with her skills with in Half Nelson.  Christopher Denham scored his first starring role as Peter with strong supporting performances in Charlie Wilson’s War and Shutter Island. Marling, who plays the charismatic Maggie, made a name for herself in 2011 by writing, producing and acting role both Another Earth and Sound of My Voice.  In Batmanglij’s eyes, the fact that Maggie comes across as a complex and empathetic character is a tribute to Marling’s talent.

Knowing from the start that Sound of My Voice would be an independent film, Batmanglij refused to let their shoe-string budget pose any constraints.  Instead, he worked on refining the details of his first feature film. For example, many of the scenes take place in the basement of a model suburban house. The director deliberately wanted to create a claustrophobic environment within the film so the audience is pulled directly into Maggie’s world, much of which is confined to that basement. Batmanglij said, “If you watch [the film] in a theatrical setting, the film has a great intimacy to it.”

The movie carefully examines why different people are drawn to cult life. One member says, “When my husband left me, I wore the same sweatpants for two years.”  As for Peter, Denham said, “Peter, like the audience, is a skeptic,” but his character undergoes “a journey of faith.” Ultimately, Denham believed that all the characters in the film have “universal longing for family.”

While Denham admitted that the film ” asks more questions than it answers,” Batmanglij promised, “A good twist ending is worth the price of admission.  Go with friends and talk about it.”