On Sept. 16, atombash.com was on the scene for a special screening of “The Keeping Room.” From the film: Brit Marling and screenwriter Julia Hart were joined by additional celebrity guests Peter Facinelli, Malcolm Gladwell, Vampire Weekend’s Chris Tomson, Nikki M. James, Judah Friedlander, Chaske Spencer, Tony Revolori, Maggie Betts, Mukunda Angulo and Narayana Angulo. The evening was sponsored by Piaget and star Brit Marling wore a silver ring and necklace by the brand. Following the screening, guests headed over to Hill & Dale for cocktails, canapes, and specially designed Piaget cupcakes.
In this radically reimagined American Western set towards the end of the Civil War, Southerner Augusta (Marling) encounters two renegade, drunken soldiers (Sam Worthington) who are on a mission of pillage and violence. After escaping an attempted assault, Augusta races back to the isolated farmhouse that she shares with her sister Louise (Hailee Steinfeld) and their female slave Mad (newcomer Muna Otaru.) When the pair of soldiers track Augusta down intent on exacting revenge, the trio of women are forced to take up arms to fend off their assailants, finding ways to resourcefully defend their home––and themselves––as the escalating attacks become more unpredictable and relentless. The film will open in limited release on Sept. 25 and expand nationwide in October.
On the inspiration for the story Julia shared, “This family started telling me about the two unmarked soldier graves, while enjoying some moonshine. That I thought was really fascinating, and thought it was a great starting point, and I wondered about how they got there and what circumstances led to these graves. I did a lot of research, but so much of what’s documented historically was about the white male experience, so I ended up doing a lot of imagining and methodizing it was an interesting opportunity for us, as women, because they are much less documented that it left it up to imagination to fill in the holes.”
On the Western genre Julia added, “I think this genre is mainly predominantly populated by men, both on camera and behind the camera, and so I guess what’s exciting is that just by virtue of telling a story about a women, and by a woman, you get to be subversive, by doing something so crazy and radical and telling a story from the female perspective, you get that moniker, and I am happy to take it.”
On her research for the role, Julia said “I read a lot of first hand accounts, whatever first hand accounts were available. There were some of the black female experience, there are some of the white female experience, but there’s not nearly as much as there is about the white male experience. So I had to piece history together, and as I said I kind of took some liberties, imagined what these people must have been like.”
On turning her screenplay into a movie Julia explained, “My husband is one of the producers on the film, I was a high school teacher at the time, and he was supportive, but definitely honest and when he read the outline for this script, he was like ‘this is the one you have to write’ and we first started sending it around and we just got a lot of really great attention from it. And actually as far as script to screen processes go, this was actually relatively quick, so it’s exciting. I think it was two years since we shot it, and then it’s been another two years since it was made, debuting in Toronto.”
Julia said that she would like to see more heroes like Augusta. “You don’t need a bunch of action heroes in CGI in big block busters. I want to see more heroes like Augusta in this movie, women finding their way into the genres that have been dominated by men but in inherently feminine ways not feeling the need to drop women into these male tropes but really making stories that are generally about female characters … I loved that Sam Worthington wanted to be in this movie, because not every guy wants play second fiddle to a group of women, so I thought it was so cool that he wanted to be the bad guy in a feminist movie. I think it says a lot about him and I think his performance is great.”
On working with director Daniel Barber she said, “It was actually really cool because a lot of the times screen writers aren’t on the film sets. I just directed my first movie, so I find it even more mind boggling that directors don’t want writers on set because, especially for this film, the dialect is very specific, because its late 19th century southern America, so it was great to be able to be on set and to be able to write as we went along … I was doing a lot of rewriting on set and Daniel and I worked pretty extensively in the development process getting the script ready for production.” She concluded that she loves Westerns. “I grew up on John Ford movies and he was a big influence on this movie and me. But as I was saying earlier, we haven’t seen a lot of women protagonists in those films, so it was exciting to get to a kind of twist on that.”
Brit Marling spoke about the filming process. She said, “I have never done something so physical before. It’s kind of amazing because it’s basically an action movie, but all the action is really realistic. I mean there is no CGI green screens or harnesses, it’s all very real. I had to do a lot of training and horseback riding, carry a rifle and wood chopping.” The most challenging part for Brit was, “I think most of it came naturally, in the beginning you have everything in your head of what you need to be doing, and then you sort of let go and the horse is your dancing partner.”
Her first impressions of the script was, “When I read it the first time, it just blew me away, how relaxed the voice was, such a strong voice and a different voice, and I was excited about that, and then I met Julia Hart and the producer, and I was like who are these people who are interested in telling these fresh original stories, with this collective vibe? … We shot in Romania, so that was pretty diverse, compared to where we all come from. We were out in the mountains in the middle of nowhere, and they built a beautiful set. And that sort of just became the space we all lived in for a while, it was like a little bubble, kind of hermitically sealed bubble where it was 1865 and we were all just dropped into that time space, and it was really challenging to live in that way for that long, but it was also really beautiful and I think it helps the performance.”
Marling reflected on what she would like viewers to take away. “I think the thing that is most exciting about it to me is it’s asking really intense questions about violence and understanding the real weight and consequence of it, rather than just sort of being an empty gesture. So it would be interesting if people watched the movie and just came away with a different sense of how difficult it is to pull the trigger and end a life, and I think you feel that way in the film.”
On working on a Western she said, “I definitely have never acted in one before this, and I am a fan of them. I am a fan of genre movies and I like big concepts, I like to be entertained, I like something with a heartbeat, that’s kind of racing, Which is why when I read this script I was like ‘wow’ there are so many genre threads in here, and also it’s this deep character study, and it’s also a coming of age story, and also so many beautiful things in one, and I had never seen that done before, so it was really exciting to play.”
JC Routh contributed reporting.