Film and media studies director Bernard Cook had a similar experience when he saw “Another Earth” last summer. That film, again starring and co-written by Marling, was directed by Mike Cahill, a Georgetown alum and close friend of both Marling and Batmanglij.
In a pivotal early scene in “Another Earth” the camera pulls out and up, creating a sweeping vertical shot that presaged the film’s cosmic sensibility. “It put me in mind of a specific shot Mike had created as an undergraduate,” Cook said. “He literally rigged up a video camera with a rope attached, and managed to throw it over a tree . . . in the middle of campus. He was literally playing around with how to create his own crane shot without a crane.”
When young filmmakers manage to have their debut films accepted at the Sundance Film Festival, and later picked up by a prestigious studio, more often than not their educational résuméincludes names like USC, UCLA or NYU. Not Georgetown, which is best known for minting buttoned-down lawyers, politicians and diplomats. But at last year’s Sundance, Cahill, Batmanglij and Marling — who majored in economics, anthropology, and economics and studio art, respectively — put Georgetown on the cinematic map.
They weren’t alone: Jim Whitaker was also at Sundance, with his documentary “Rebirth,” and Regina Kulik Scully was there as executive producer of the documentary “Miss Representation.”
And Hoyas have made films before, from the producer Don Murphy (“Transformers”) to Megan Mylan, who won an Oscar in 2009 for her documentary short “Smile Pinki.”
But the Cahill-Batmanglij-Marling troika clearly defined a turning point — not just in Georgetown being taken seriously as an incubator of filmmaking talent, but in taking itself seriously as well. Last year, the school created a film and media studies program, an achievement that Cook credits the three with helping to galvanize. “It’s something we’d been building literally for ten years, since Mike and Zal were undergrads,” he said. “They made the coherence for themselves, what we’re trying to do now is build that coherence for others.”
Batmanglij insists that when he and Cahill began making short films, “we had no concept that you could actually make a living doing this. When we were in college, it seemed like a hobby — something that gave us meaning, but not necessarily a living.” In addition to studying with Cook and Bocci, Batmanglij studied with film studies and visual culture professor Lalitha Gopalan, who taught classes about women in film. “She ran her class like the military,” Batmanglij recalled recently. “I think Mike and I both got kicked out of her class multiple times. We were always making movies and showing up hungover, not from drinking but from working all night.”