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Sundance 2011: "Sound of My Voice" is the Indie Sci-Fi Film You're Looking For

By Christopher Campbell | Spout February 1, 2011 at 3:31AM

Zal Batmanglij's "Sound of My Voice" is the kind of movie that Spout exists for. Filled with mystery and ending ambiguously, it offers much room for theorizing and analyzing. In fact, it might be the most discussion-worthy fiction film since "Inception." If only some distributor would pick up the rights so you can see it and begin talking. Of the two films at Sundance starring and co-written by Brit Marling, I think this one is loads more interesting and is much better directed than the other ("Another Earth," which is not the indie sci-fi film you're looking for). And hat's off to Marling and Batmanglij for giving us a film about the making of a documentary that doesn't have to be reflexively presented as if it were that documentary (even if "Troll Hunter" was another favorite at Sundance that did continue that trend).
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Zal Batmanglij's "Sound of My Voice" is the kind of movie that Spout exists for. Filled with mystery and ending ambiguously, it offers much room for theorizing and analyzing. In fact, it might be the most discussion-worthy fiction film since "Inception." If only some distributor would pick up the rights so you can see it and begin talking. Of the two films at Sundance starring and co-written by Brit Marling, I think this one is loads more interesting and is much better directed than the other ("Another Earth," which is not the indie sci-fi film you're looking for). And hat's off to Marling and Batmanglij for giving us a film about the making of a documentary that doesn't have to be reflexively presented as if it were that documentary (even if "Troll Hunter" was another favorite at Sundance that did continue that trend).

The plot, which I should only minimally lay out, indeed concerns a couple (Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius) making a documentary about cults. At the opening of "Sound of My Voice" they have infiltrated a very secret yet non-restrictive group following a young woman (Marling) who claims to be from the future. Some people tell me that I shouldn't reveal that last point because it's a spoiler. It's not really since it's stated early on. Besides, I only finally got a ticket for the movie because I heard it dealt with time travel. So that's probably a good selling point that should be spotlighted. Besides, the real fun is what the film does with the concept of time travel and the wonder about whether or not the cult leader is in fact from another time.

But don't worry. This isn't "K-Pax." Maybe it's a little bit like a lo-fi "12 Monkeys." Also, in a way, between this and "Another Earth," I'm reminded of "Contact." But mostly the movie had me recalling the story of John Titor, an alleged time traveler who became an Internet phenomenon and obsession of mine (though not necessarily something I believed to be true) through Art Bell's Coast to Coast radio show and subsequent message board activity. Batmanglij admitted to me that he not only is familiar with the Titor legend, but that "Sound of My Voice" is partly inspired by it. If you followed the story, you may recognize some similarities in the cult leader's claims about the future. Unlike Titor, though, she's fictional and so we can suspend more disbelief for her. Not that Titor was ever necessarily proven 100% to be a hoax (or not one).

Marling and Batmanglij apparently developed "Sound of My Voice" to be a web series. Now they're talking sequel(s). At the screening I attended there was mention of a possible trilogy. Enough answers are left open at the end of this film to warrant continuation, though many of us would be satisfied with what we've been given. Batmanglij said something about tying up more than "LOST" did. Okay, but we also don't need too much spoon fed, either. If they don't get a franchise film deal, I could also see the story moving forward on television. Or, Marling could at least create another clever sci-fi series with or without either of her Sundance collaborators (they could direct some episodes, sure). She might actually be the one to bring us the next "LOST," actually.

Meanwhile, I'd also love to see a series from the guys behind the award-winning yet still unsold doc "Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles." This film, which tracks an urban folklore history involving strange tiled messages embedded in city pavements around the Western hemisphere, also reminded me of the Titor phenomenon. In particular, there is a sequence relating how the Toynbee Tiles were discussed on message boards with theories relating it to everything including a prophesy of 9/11. Just as Titor was discussed as having predicted the tragedy, as well. Of course, at the time, every conspiracy theory and urban legend could be speculatively tied to 9/11 somehow or another. Anyway, I could see Jon Foy, who picked up the U.S. documentary director prize, having a show in which he goes in search for the truth about other urban legends and folklore myths while also celebrating the traditions of oral storytelling, including their significant relation to rumor and hearsay, and other memetic and viral phenomena, both analog and digital.

Perhaps Foy can get together with Matthew Bate, director of the similar doc "Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure," about a longtime analog meme primarily dealing with the cult popularity of cassette tapes featuring profane and drunk roommates bickering and yelling. Another piece of urban folklore filled with intrigue and a history of an era. As far as I know, "Shut Up Little Man!" also is without a distributor at the end of Sundance. Maybe Kino International can follow their release of "Winnebago Man" with both "Shut Up" and "Resurrect Dead" -- the two would make a great double feature.

As for "Sound of My Voice," Fox Searchlight needs to come back around and scoop it up and maybe even release it as a double feature in some markets along with "Another Earth." I'd put "Sound" on second, though, since it's the more suspenseful, exciting, engaging and conversation-prompting of the pair. Is Fox the best company to handle a film with such great viral marketing potential, though? Or should "Sound" go to Paramount instead? Either way, wish that it ends up in front of your eyes soon. Check out the following clip while you wait:

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