ANOTHER EARTH Hits Blu-ray, Director Mike Cahill

Sean Smithson, Contributor
For some, the art of filmmaking is a deeply personal passion that reaches far into that person's soul and extracts their own perspective, to be splashed across the screen for others to ponder, and appreciate. For others, not so much. Those are the types who, like hired guns of the Old West, do what they're told and try, if possible, to inject some small amount of their perception into what is oftentimes a completely commercial endeavor. The former, like Another Earth director, Mike Cahill, finds his muse deep within his heart. The other... well, their wallets are where inspiration can be found.
Last year, Cahill released his film (available November 29th, 2011 on DVD and BluRay from 20th Century Fox) about loss, life, fear, and redemption, and it was met with an almost universal approval. Subtle, heartbreaking, and yet ultimately life-affirming and hopeful, Another Earth is a stunning and wholly individual vision.
In celebration of Another Earth being widely available, Twitch returned to speak with Mike about his film, his unique outlook on what cinema means, and what the future might hold for this up-and-coming filmmaker. (lead-in - Thom Carnell)

The initial interview, by our own Peter Martin, can be read HERE.

An expanded version of this follow-up interview, conducted by Sean Smithson and Thom Carnell, can be heard on the next episode of The Night Crew podcast as well, available this Friday (Dec. 2, 2011).


Twitch: How did Another Earth come about?

Mike Cahill: The project started with Brit Marling and I. Brit, who plays the lead, Rhoda Williams, in the film, and I have been friends for ten years. We went to school together and made all these short films, documentaries, and video art pieces. A couple of years ago, we were like, "Let's make a feature. I'll direct it. You star in it and we'll write it together." We came up with this concept of another earth based off of the simple idea of 'What would it be like to meet yourself?' I'd figured out how to do all of these composites of other Earths up in the sky and had kind of worked on the esthetic. We thought, 'All right, we can tell seven billion stories here because there's seven billion doppelgangers, which story should we tell?' We ended up writing the story of this girl who accidentally kills this man's entire family and has this burden of guilt she has to figure out. It's like a story of redemption. So, that was the story we wanted to tell... of another earth, another universe.

T: It's interesting about the use of the other Earth. In the trailer, it seems to be the main focus of the film, but it ends up being a sort of catalyst for the telling a much different story. It's about so much more. I think it addresses things like forgiveness - and more importantly, self-forgiveness - and it ends up being a very powerful film.

MC: I think you're right on with that. The other Earth is really just a metaphor for getting a new perspective on ourselves. It is featured kind of prominently in the trailer, but in the larger context of the film, it is just the context. It's the background. It's the thing that is happening on the news and on the television, and you see it in the sky. I was really motivated and inspired by the moon landings and how most people on Earth experienced that. They saw it on television and there were people walking out on porches and looking up and seeing this moon in the sky and they couldn't see the lunar craft or anything like that, but they felt the power of the connection to it all. So, we wanted to tell this story of this discover of this duplicate Earth from the perspective of the outsider, just these two regular people living their lives and they get thrown together in a traumatic sort of way and they have to work it out. But ultimately, it's a way to change the perspective on ourselves and ask, 'If you had done something horrible, could you forgive yourself?' So, it's a metaphor, really.

T: Another Earth seems like it's very much a part of the existential cinema thing, but it's also really external. How conscious were you of that while making the film?

MC: I'm obsessed with the idea of the existential like, 'Who are we?' And it's weird because I've just written another film about reincarnation and, in that world, we know who we were in the past. Like everybody... the concept's been proven by science and everyone knows who they were. And I guess I have some sort of obsession with trying to figure out the big questions of identity... like 'Who are we as humans and what makes up who we are?' Because we go about our lives living very much in our own heads and the outside world is around us. We see the world via our two eyes. But if you would pull yourself outside of your self and then the big question of who we are is visualized and literalized. I love that. I am obsessed with that for some reason.

T: I love how the main character completely embraces her own complicity in the accident, in what happened. So often in films (and in Life), we hear, "Oh, it was an accident" or "Oh, the frivolity of youth' or "Well, these kinds of things happen when you're young and blonde and white... or whatever,' but your main character is, while not as profoundly affected by the event as the man is, but she doesn't slough it off. She sort of takes her guilt to her chest and carries it around with her like a millstone.

MC: Absolutely! Gosh, it's so cool... It's so moving, actually, to hear you say that because it's such a specific read on it and it's precisely what we were trying to do in the writing and what Brit was doing with the acting. It is the absolute absence of self-pity. Self-pity, for a character... If she'd started pointing fingers or passing blame around and saying, 'Oh, I'm a victim' or "It was the frivolity of youth' or 'It was a mistake. I was distracted.' If she'd started putting the blame somewhere else and started feeling sorry for herself, we wouldn't feel the same way about her. It's very alienating and the character becomes alienating and it's more difficult to empathize with her. So, that was really, really important to both Brit and I that her character had not a shred of self-pity. We wanted her to be sort of this warrior-like protagonist who's fighting the antagonism of guilt, but in a very 'not feeling sorry for herself' kind of way

T: Let's get into your cast... Your partner, Brit, who is the lead, William Mapother as the widower. Wow! Can you introduce them to us a little bit?

MC: Sure! Brit plays Rhoda Williams who is a young, ambitious girl who is on the pathway toward becoming an astrophysicist. She just gets accepted into MIT. She's going to study the stars. She has this passionate fascination with the cosmos.  William plays this character who is a Yale professor, a composer, a musician. And their lives are smashed into one another - literally - the moment we discover this other Earth up in the sky. They're both incredibly formidable actors. So present. So authentic. I was really, really lucky to work with both of them.

T: You'd mentioned that you were working on a new film. What is happening for you now that Another Earth is out and finding its way onto DVD and BluRay?

MC: It's been awesome... how the film has been received. It's way beyond my expectations and what's beautiful is that, now, all of a sudden, the dream - or the desire - that I've had for so long to make things is becoming a bit easier... Not easier, but more opportunities have come about. So, I wrote a story about reincarnation like I was telling you. I'm really deep into it right now and that is getting made. I wrote another film about a fashion designer who lives at the bottom of the sea...

T: [chuckles]

MC: So, I feel very, very lucky.

T: Do you have any desire to make say, a popcorn film? Like a big summer spectacle of a film?

MC: No... I wouldn't make like a super hero movie or something like that. [laughs] But, for example, the underwater movie I mentioned, it does involved a bit of spectacle because it takes place in a world under the sea where everyone walks and talks in the water. So, there is something magical to it, but the story... It's about this junkie, heroin addict fashion designer and the story is very complex and 'indie-minded,' and yet, it involves something that is spectacular and will have a bigger feeling to it. That's the kind of thing I want to be doing.

T: But, hypothetically... if they came to you and said, 'Ok, Mike... we're going to give you 220 million dollars to do The Justice League...' Would you turn that down outright or would you consider how you would approach that idea?


MC: I don't think so. At this point, my feeling is this... there are certain stories - whatever they are - there are certain obsessions that I have or personal emotions that I'm trying to articulate and, for now, I've been very self-generating and I have a bunch of those ideas. So, if someone gave me the freedom and the opportunity to tell those stories, that's what I would rather do.


T: I admire that. I really do.

MC: You spend four years of your life on something, you better love it, you know?

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