Kelly Reichardt at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Photo by Brian Brooks

A long queue formed in front of the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center Wednesday evening to see filmmaker Kelly Reichardt, who joined the Film Society of Lincoln Center's ongoing Free Talks series in the Amphitheater. Reichardt's latest feature, Night Moves stars Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard as three radical environmentalists.

“Casting is such a long process, so many things have to come together,” said Reichardt, who spoke with the Film Society's Deputy Director Eugene Hernandez. In the case of Fanning, Reichardt admitted to some initial trepidation about casting the young actress because of her age, but the War of the Worlds and Man on Fire star was determined to win Reichardt over. “I finally met with her and she convinced me she's not too young,” said Reichardt. “For these films we don't have the usual separation of cast and crew where the cast has comfortable living. The craft services person has the same set up as Dakota has. There is no trailer where someone calls an actor when they're needed.”

Similar to her previous film, Meek's Cutoff, Night Moves is set in the Northwest. The suspense thriller follows three passionate environmentalists whose homegrown plot to blow up a controversial dams unravels into a journey of doubt, paranoia, and unintended consequences.

“Quite a few of the films I've done in the world with co-writer Jonathan Raymond began in a particular place,” said Reichardt about the genesis of the story. “He's friends with these organic farmers in Oregon and he became curious about the politics that flowed through the community there.” The farm where Night Moves had its conceptual start also became a main setting for the actual shoot. As with her previous projects, Reichardt spent a hefty amount of time scouting. When she's not making movies, she teaches film at Bard College, telling her students that research and scouting are key components to the filmmaking process. “Google does not count as research,” she said.

Despite meticulously planning out planning details for Night Moves, surprises nevertheless cropt up. After spending what would seem like ample time on the farm mapping out shots a year before production, a visual glitch occurred once she returned with cameras, cast, and crew. “I had never even thought about crop rotation. We came back and the place was completely different.”

Jesse Eisenberg also spent time on the farm, traveling there early to get a feel for the place, even working with the farmers before shooting began. “He helped build this giant greenhouse out in the field where I had planned to do all these shots,” said Reichardt, still recalling her astonishment about the farm's change of appearance. “He's a man of a million questions and does a lot of research.”

The dam at the center of Night Move's plot also grew out of a relationship that was formed on the road. Armed with only a tiny budget, finding a suitable dam could have proven impossible, not to mention the delicate dance of having to explain that the story involves radicalized environmentalists who want to blow the place up.

Producer Neil Kopp met someone who worked at a particular dam in Oregon. Over time, he finessed a friendship that made it possible to get things underway.

The slightest door was open to one dam and Neil created a relationship with a guy in charge there over the course of a year,” said Reichardt. “[Eventually] we built up a trust and they started to get into it. They said, 'Well, if you're going to blow up this dam, you would put the boat there…' I said, 'Wow, you really thought about this…'” 

Night Moves opens this weekend.