Associated Press (AP) — Indie filmmaker Kelly Reichardt, for the sake of her dog, drives back and forth between her New York home and the Oregonian landscape that shapes her films, noting along the way the increasing toll of industrialization.
The observation has relevance for her latest film, “Night Moves,” which tells the story of three young environmentalists who plot to blow up an Oregon dam choking a stream and flooding old forests. The plotline puts front and center the issue of eco-terrorism — a term that Reichardt does not endorse.
“I would call it direct activism,” Reichardt said in an interview Saturday ahead of the film’s world premiere in competition at the Venice Film Festival. “But if there is radicalism, I guess I would say it is on behalf of the corporations. When I drive cross-country and I see the face of America, to me it feels radical in how little remains untouched.”
“Nightmoves,” a thriller at heart, but with Reichardt’s thoughtful pacing, stars Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard as environmentalists who have chosen a radical — and perilous — action to protest environmental degradation.
Reichardt films in detail as the three organize the bombing, revealing the edginess of Eisenberg’s Josh, the almost carefree calm of Fanning’s Dena and the cavalier daring in Sargaard’s Harmon as they buy a boat, figure out how to get another 500 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and prepare the explosives. They are alternately meticulous and careless.
“These are not professionals” Reichardt said. “Harmon has a sort of casualness that makes him dangerous and Dena is at an age that makes her so self-assured, at least at the beginning.”
She describes Josh as “a pretty dark character. He has a lot to feel really, really right about, and that can be dangerous.”
Reichardt insists the film is not a meant to make a political statement. Rather “it’s really a character film, and just based on what I think would be the conversation of our time.”
And she deflects questions about whether she reveals details that might be useful to would-be copycats.
“There was so much on the Internet, if you wanted a manual,” she said during a press conference. “I am not sure the film celebrates the glory. It is about the complexity of radicals, and I think the downsides are equally weighed.”
The scenery informs this movie, as in all of Reichardt’s work, and Fanning said filming on location brought the dilemmas home to her. “There is a scene when they are on the boat going through a tree grave yard, with stumps sticking out of the water. They used to be trees, but the dam has changed the level of the water,” Fanning said in an interview.
Fanning said she could understand the characters’ frustration with general apathy in the face of environmental destruction, but she also said she how small projects can make a difference when she was invited recently on a tour of five African nations with former President Bill Clinton’s foundation.
“I think the three characters are all looking for that kind of connected feeling and this is their way of feeling plugged into the world, and plugged into the movement and activism,” she said. “Their maybe rash choice is from a place of just wanting to feel a part of it, and kind of being annoyed at the rest of the people around them that they are not seeing it.”
“I think it happens with all kinds of different things and not just activism. I certainly have moments where I’m like, ‘Am I the only person who feels this way? Seriously?,” Fanning said.
Eisenberg worked for several months on the organic farm that was Reichardt’s starting point for the film, living in a yurt and working in cabbage fields — an experience that helped the actor connect with his character’s motives.
“It just gives you a different sense of living,” Eisenberg said. “When you are planting the food that you eat, you feel a direct sense with interacting with the world for practical reasons, and alternatively you are feeling disgusted by a lot of modernity just by being separate from it. That is what my character is mainly driven by.
“My character thinks of himself as a soldier in a war fighting what he views as modern society that’s been co-opted by business and technology,” he said. “I suppose there is a kind of irony if he is fighting to create a more beautiful, peaceful and sustainable environment, but doing it through kind of dangerous means. He views his acts as right and just, and he views the damage as collateral damage. “