Batmanglij: Searchlight finds brave new ‘Voice’

10 Directors to Watch 2012: Zal Batmanglij

Age: 30
Homebase: Los Angeles
Inspired by: Everything from James Cameron’s “Terminator 2” to Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Red” and “Double Life of Veronique” (“It has a lot of the same themes as ‘Terminator’: time displacement, what-ifs. You can discuss these ideas in a lot of different ways,” he says.)
Reps: Agent: David Flynn (UTA); Lawyer: Shelley Surpin (Surpin and Mayersohn)

A year ago, Zal Batmanglij was just one more guy with a low-budget film at Sundance.

A graduate of the AFI directing program, he had made a couple of shorts with fellow Georgetown alumni Brit Marling and Mike Cahill, worked on MTV’s “True Life” and scored a UTA agent. But he didn’t necessarily expect his modest feature debut “Sound of My Voice” to break out of the festival’s Next section — which is probably for the best, since it took a few months for a distributor to take note of the solid reviews and fanboy following the thought-provoking thriller had picked up, first at Sundance, and then two months later, at South by Southwest.

By March, Batmanglij was in talks with Fox Searchlight not only to release “Sound” but also to produce his next project, “The East,” co-written with Marling, about a female agent who infiltrates an anarchist group. The film, which also stars Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page and Patricia Clarkson, began shooting in mid-October, and just wrapped in December.

“We had no studio aspirations,” says Batmanglij, who grew up in Washington, D.C. “We wanted to make ‘The East’ the same way we made ‘Sound of My Voice.’ We really never dreamed that we could move this nimbly, this fast.”

In Batmanglij’s expeditious rise, he hasn’t been daunted so much as interested in refining his talents and process.

“Filmmaking is so collaborative,” he says. “There’s this tribal aspect that I find really rewarding and exhilarating, so a big part of my job is making sure that everybody is talking to each other, so we’re all making the same movie.”

Ultimately, he says, “What I want to do is get better. I’m definitely one of those people trying to tell the same story over and over again until I get it right.”

For Batmanglij, it’s a story specifically involving “time travel, sci-fi, spies, angels, the idea of intrigue,” he says. “They’re all about what is seen and not seen.” As a filmmaker, he’d like to continue tackling such topics that “put the onus on the viewer,” where the audience participates in the story and “must take a stand.”

10 Directors to Watch
Zal Batmanglij |

Valerie Donzelli | Gareth Evans | Philippe Falardeau | Mike ‘Mouse’ McCoy & Scott Waugh | Gerardo Naranjo | Matt Piedmont | Michael R. Roskam | Lynn Shelton | Benh Zeitlin