Sundance 2011: ‘Sound of My Voice’ is ‘what NEXT is all about’


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After a somewhat shaky start last year, the low-budget NEXT section at this year’s Sundance Film Festival seems to be finding its footing, with well-received screenings over the weekend for ‘Bellflower,’ ‘The Lie’ and ‘The Off Hours.’

With the first screenings taking place at the decidedly low-key Yarrow Hotel venue rather than some of the festival’s more high-pressure locations, the screenings have a relaxed vibe, with many cast and crew members, friends and family setting a tone of support. Before the premiere screening of ‘Sound of My Voice’ on Monday night, Sundance senior programmer Shari Frilot said, ‘This is what NEXT is all about.’


Introducing the film, director and co-writer Zal Batmanglij said, ‘We finished this film three days ago.’

The story follows a young, on-trend Silver Lake couple (Nicole Vicius and Christopher Denham) who in trying to infiltrate a cult to make a documentary find themselves possibly falling under the sway of its leader (Brit Marling), who claims she is from the future.

There is something elliptical and gripping in the storytelling here. As Batmanglij explained during a Q&A after the film, he and Marling (who is co-writer and co-producer as well as costar) originally conceived the story for a series of episodic shorts for the Web. The finished film maintains this structure by interspersing numbered cards through the film and highlighting the little mini-climaxes that occur along the way. At times the structure feels a bit overly calculated, as if it were trying too much to be a pocket-version of a serialized television drama. But with sharp performances, some twists and a clear-eyed visual style, the film keeps the audience engaged and guessing. Batmanglij’s brother, a member of the popular band Vampire Weekend, composed the film’s score.

Batmanglij proved himself to be a bit of a natural showman during the Q&A, handling it with an off-kilter wit and surprising aplomb. When someone asked about the film’s ending, he turned the question back, ‘How did it make you feel?’ ‘I thought it was was weird,’ came the response. ‘Well, it’s a weird movie,’ Batmanglij lobbed back.

Batmanglij and Marling said they have more material written for further adventures with these characters, be it for the Web or as some kind of sequel. The film as it is stands is full of teasing enigmas -- What do they want with that little girl? What is the man injecting between her toes? -- and when a questioner asked Batmanglij to clarify something specific, his response was simple.

‘That’s a good question. Part 2.’

--Mark Olsen in Park City, Utah