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For ‘The East,’ Brit Marling digs into subcultures, dumpsters

An investigator working for corporate interests (Brit Marling) goes woods infiltrate an anarchist group “The East.”

An investigator working for corporate interests (Brit Marling) goes to the woods to infiltrate an anarchist group in “The East.”

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Updated: July 3, 2013 6:09AM

Just a few years ago, Brit Marling was an intern at Goldman Sachs on her way to a lucrative career in investment banking.

A summer ago, she was diving in a trash can for her next meal.

You can’t blame the recession. She was simply researching her new movie “The East,” which Marling co-wrote, produced and stars in.

“When you’re diving in a Dumpster for food, it sounds gross,” she says. “The truth is that stores throw away perfectly good bread that’s in plastic. It’s a day past its ‘sell by’ date.

“Eating this way is how some people live.”

The film (opening Friday) is about an elusive anarchist collective group living in the woods that seeks revenge against major corporations guilty of covering up criminal activities. Marling starts out on the other side as a former FBI agent who now works for a private intelligence firm that protects the interests of A-list corporate clientele.

She goes undercover with a group called the East to figure out its latest plans and falls in love with anarchist Benji (Alexander Skarsgard) as she begins to ask hard questions about her own life.

“We wanted to make a movie that made people’s hearts race,” says Marling. “What we created is an espionage thriller, but it’s also an entertaining story. I wanted to make a film that made you do a bit of thinking, but at the same time, it feels like a fast ride.”

The film deals with the political issues of our times.

“People feel so frustrated. It feels like we can’t change things,” she says.

She co-wrote the film with a college friend, director Zal Batmanglij. For research, the two spent a summer on the road exploring those who say “no thanks” to a consumer culture.

“We lived in the tents and took trains. We even went into abandoned buildings to talk to the people hanging out there,” she says.

“There is a growing subculture in this country that lives in a very different way.”

Marling and Batmanglij met with people from anarchist collectives, organic farms and the communal villages known as “intentional communities.”

“These people live off the grid of capitalism,” Marling says. “They don’t buy their food, but grow it. They barter. They teach each other. They’re fed up with our consumer culture and choose to approach life a different way.

“It’s a brave and hard thing to do. The inspiring part of it is that people are putting down the technology to really talk to each other again. People want to figure it out together.”

Simple lifestyle challenges were tough for her.

“I read about Buy Nothing Day and tried it. It was so liberating. You look at your fridge differently. You say, ‘OK, what do you have? What can I make without spending one dollar?’ It wasn’t about where can I go out to dinner. I tried Buy Nothing Summer, which meant you didn’t buy anything,” she says. “It was liberating and hard at the same time.”

Marling was born in Chicago but grew up in Winter Park, Fla. She was set on working in business, but the economics major also loved films. After graduating from Georgetown, she ended up in Cuba, where she co-directed a documentary called “Boxers and Ballerinas.”

After her short stint at Goldman Sachs, she ditched the suits and the briefcase to do film projects including “Sound of My Voice” and her own writing and production project “Another Earth.” She has also starred in “Arbitrage” (2012) with Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon and “The Company You Keep” (2012) with Robert Redford.

She just wrapped A.J. Edwards’ “The Green Blade Rises,” about the young life of Abe Lincoln.

“I love the storyteller life,” she says. “You never know what the next day will bring.”

Big Picture News Inc.

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