AFI Movie Club: SOUND OF MY VOICE – American Film Institute



SOUND OF MY VOICE, the feature directorial debut of AFI Conservatory alum Zal Batmanglij (Class of 2006), centers on a couple trying to infiltrate and expose a cult led by Maggie (cowriter Brit Marling), a young woman who claims to be a time-traveller from the year 2054. SOUND OF MY VOICE was shot by another graduate of the AFI Conservatory – cinematographer Rachel Morrison (Class of 2006).

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Watch director Zal Batmanglij discuss working with award-winning cinematographer and fellow AFI alum Rachel Morrison on his feature debut, SOUND OF MY VOICE:

Trivia about Today’s Film


Originally, SOUND OF MY VOICE was planned as the first feature in a trilogy following Maggie and her cult, although subsequent films were never produced.


Co-writers Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling, who met at Georgetown, are frequent collaborators. Not only did they join forces on SOUND OF MY VOICE, but they also reteamed for the ecoterrorism thriller THE EAST and the supernatural series THE OA.


The budget for SOUND OF MY VOICE was so minimal that the filmmakers didn’t have money for a computer to edit the film on. Production ended up buying and returning iMacs in order to complete the film.


To prepare for the role, Brit Marling studied notorious cults, including watching a documentary on the Jonestown massacre and reading about David Koresh and the Children of God.


Other members of the crew on SOUND OF MY VOICE include fellow AFI alum and Oscar®-nominated cinematographer Rachel Morrison, as well as composer Rostam Batmanglij – who is one of the founding members of Vampire Weekend and the brother of director Zal Batmanglij.


The initial idea for the film stemmed from a dream had by director Zal Batmanglij. He said, “I had a dream in which I was blindfolded.  My hands were bound by plastic cuffs.  I was wearing a hospital gown, and I was led down these basement stairs, and I when I told Brit [Marling] the dream in one of our morning writing sessions, she didn’t miss a beat.  She just continued telling the story, and then I kept telling the story from where she left off, and we just kept telling each other the story.  It took about six months until we got to the end of the story.”


The filmmakers shot SOUND OF MY VOICE in just 18 days across Los Angeles.  The production found out the hard way that there are no finished basements in Los Angeles, so they built one in a warehouse downtown. Director Zal Batmanglij said, he “did not want movable walls as you usually have on a set. I wanted to feel that claustrophobia.”

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The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

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-Throughout the film, it is ambiguous whether Maggie is actually a time traveler or a fraud. What do you believe and why?

-Did you relate to the couple’s skepticism at the beginning of the film? How does Peter’s relationship with his mother, who died as a result of involvement with a cult, impact his involvement? Is his quest one of revenge or trying to truly understand what happened to his mother?

-Do you believe that the line between skepticism and belief is a tenuous one?

-How do elements of religion and science fiction commingle in SOUND OF MY VOICE? One of the tenets of faith is that you ultimately can’t have proof. How do cults exploit this fact?

-Do we as voyeurs become complicit in the cult—in deciding what is and isn’t true?

-What LA fixtures could you identify throughout the film? Why has California historically been a site of cult activity? Why do cults often target creative communities? What makes creative individuals more open to this type of exploitation?

-Brit Marling not only starred in SOUND OF MY VOICE, but also cowrote it with Batmanglij and has co-created and written many of her other projects, including ANOTHER EARTH, THE EAST and THE OA. How would you characterize her voice and the themes across her body of work? Why is this type of representation important?

-How would you rate SOUND OF MY VOICE?

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