THE SWEET EAST is a picaresque journey through the cities and woods of the Eastern seaboard of the United States. Lillian, a high school senior from South Carolina, gets her first glimpse of the wider world on a class trip to Washington, D.C. Separated from her schoolmates, she embarks on a fractured road trip in search of America. Along the way, she falls in with a variety of strange factions, each living out their own alternative realities in our present day.

D I R E C T O R ’ S

This is the directorial debut of internationally renowned US cinematographer Sean Price Williams (Good Time; Funny Pages; Listen Up Philip) whom The New Yorker described as “the cinematographer for many of the best and most significant independent films of the past decade.” Sean has shot films for directors including Abel Ferrara and Josh and Benny Safdie, lighting actors such as Ethan Hawke, Elisabeth Moss, Jon Hamm, Geena Davis and Robert Pattinson. 

Sean collaborated on The Sweet East with screenwriter and notorious film critic Nicholas Pinkerton, with whom he shares a period of employment at the now defunct Kim's Video Store in East Village, NYC.

O F   T H E   D I R E C T O R

THE SWEET EAST isn't a film made by one author. With years of filmmaking behind us we know that there are many efforts behind a film.

THE SWEET EAST is a flare shot across the sky of America. America made this film.

We hoped to make something relevant about our home. In fact, it's an old country, but its back is strong, its muscles are robust, the joints limber; and isn't it exciting to see where we are next driven?

But, perhaps we take ourselves too seriously.

THE SWEET EAST has its own pretensions of significance signaled by references to American cinema history.

But we are patriots. It's a nation rich with character and color.

Our heroine is Lillian – like our own nation, she can seem both knowing and naïve. Is she a young woman still finding her own way? Or is she the oldest constitutional democracy on earth and already plenty grown up?

Is it a coming-of-age road movie, or is it a story about staying true to yourself when you don’t know 100% who you are. The important thing is that we are unsure about everything. Because being sure is boring. Being sure is what traps us.

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Q&A with Director Sean Price Williams and Screenwriter Nick Pinkerton

What was the genesis of this film?

Sean Price Williams: I remember being on a train with Nick one night, faced with a gaggle of preppy young people. Pretty sure they were visitors from another planet.  And Nick was staring with a dangerous, disagreeable look, to say the least.  It was early days in this important shift towards heightened polarity in America, which has only snowballed since. Nick and I are very proud of so much American history and culture.  The very proclamation of American patriotism in the twenty first century seems to ruffle feathers in most circles we spin within.  I think this simple fact inspired the film. MEDIUM COOL was an inspiration (prior to this moment, though).   I just wanted to try directing a movie. Nick is an absolute genius writer.  He wrote the best article online about the end of Kim’s Video.  I said, “Nick, you should write a script.”  He quickly wrote a sort of thirtysomething Ohio movie that I had zero connection to.  So I asked him to write something that we could both have fun with.The script is full of scenarios and characters that we are both convinced are based on our own experiences.  The confusion sort of supports a hope of universality. 

What inspired you to make your solo directorial debut?

Sean Price Williams: I always wanted to direct.  I never knew what a cinematographer was for some time.  I had to read the “Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers” book to figure it out. The interviews in that book assured me that it wasn’t all technical and that good taste was most important.  I became pretty preoccupied with trying to make the predominant medium in low budget films, miniDV, have some cinematic value.  I probably lost a good many years on that fruitless endeavor. I made a lot of wonderful stuff with friends that will likely never see the light of day. 

There have been many revelations in cinema that challenge what a director is or what a director does.  I think the respect the credit receives can greatly do a disservice to the profound collaborations that create such complex work. Certainly sometimes a director, in fact, paints the entire product with their personality.  These artists are few.

As a technician on many movies, I wanted to see if it was possible to make a movie like a band.  Not one artist.  But a band of creative people who really feel connected to the movie.  The crew on our film were a mix of old friends and new friends who like what they do.  It’s amazing that someone actually likes making schedules.  Someone likes script supervising.  Someone likes loading film.  Someone likes flagging a light.  I really had no interest in being looked at by the crew as director.  I take the credit ultimately because someone has to be held responsible for so many bizarre decisions. 

What was the collaboration between screenwriter and director like?

We are very close friends.  Nick’s extraordinary well of history and references. I enjoyed the writing so much; we filmed a silly amount of material.  I was sure we could pull off a three hour comedy adventure, something like O LUCKY MAN!

Nick was almost always on set, which was helpful to explain certain references and make clear the intentions of certain passages.  Also, he was always bringing more material. 

Again, many of the scenarios in the film are from his life and also mine.  Somehow we both seemed to have some experience of a girlfriend going missing in DC on a school trip.  We will likely argue always about what was inspired by what.  But the argument itself means that young people go through the same crap,  and not just in that one specific time period. 

What was the production like? What was the mood like on set?

Ask everyone on the movie about the mood.  I value their opinions.

It was so essential to me that everyone on set felt like they were having the best time they have ever had working.  It’s’ a mix of me wanting to be liked and me wanting to prove to some indie film judge in heaven that a good movie can be made without breaking anyone in half.  The spell was cast so well that our very first week of shooting, which was planned months ahead to be taking place upstate in the throes of winter and snow, in fact took place in the most pleasant t-shirt weather November had ever seen.  Our snow fantasy was a picnic.  Well ok.  We worked it into the film.  We always had an attitude of improvising when things didn’t go as we had hoped.  I think every curveball thrown at us turned our head in a better direction.  That continued all the way through the color grade and conform. 

How do you see THE SWEET EAST in a tradition of American road movies?

Sean Price Williams: We never thought of the film as a road movie during the conception.  A true road movie is something that is defined by rules.  Our finished film may or may not actually qualify, but, by the nature of a genre that is defined by rules, we didn’t consider the film as such.

Nick and I went on a road trip in 2017 or thereabouts to sort of scout out the inspirations of the early draft of the script.  We took many pictures and videos (most of which are thankfully lost) that probably would have been content for a more recognizable road movie. 

Nick Pinkerton:  I don’t see it in that tradition, particularly, because it’s more concerned with the various pit-stops its protagonist takes than with being “on the road,” per se. When you talk about the “American road movie” it kind of evokes wide-open Western spaces, and our movie is resolutely East coast, so if it does belong to any tradition like that, it’s the tradition of the Eastern seaboard road movie—like Robert Frank and Rudy Wurlitzer’s great CANDY MOUNTAIN. Incidentally, we dropped in on Wurlitzer and his wife in Hudson, New York on a road trip we took to visit all of the locations in the script in 2017 or ’18, and there’s one road movie that he wrote the screenplay for—Monte Hellman’s TWO-LANE BLACKTOP—that might have been an oblique inspiration. It was shot in sequence, with the production slowly moving from Los Angeles to Memphis, like the characters are, and you really see the landscapes and the plant life change along the way. We weren’t able to shoot in sequence for several reasons, but we did try to fake things as little as possible, and to shoot things in the places they were set, the idea being that people would feel that sense of range and breadth in the finished film. 

Anyhow, I’ve tended to call the movie a picaresque instead—touches of Moll Flanders and Thackeray and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—though that isn’t entirely accurate either, because I see Lillian learning things over the course of it, which a true picaro doesn’t do. Maybe a little bit of Charterhouse of Parma, too; the way that Lillian moves between all of these different worlds with their vastly different customs and beliefs, it’s a bit like Stendhal’s adventurer moving between the different courts and kingdoms of pre-unification Italy. 

How did you cast Talia? Did she have any input into her character?

Sean Price Williams: Talia was the first person I met to play Lilian.  She impressed me in so many ways.  But she was the first, so, as a lover of film lore, I couldn’t really believe the first person would be the one.  I talked to others.  Really great people.  I was so impressed by so many people.  It was a thrill to discover so many bright young actors.  Talia came back with questions.  And it became clear that she understood the character more thoroughly than any of us.  I trusted her entirely.  If she didn’t buy a line, we cut it.  She had great suggestions for casting that we always went with. Her instincts were incredible and during the edit, she just impressed me more and more.  I had to believe that Talia was Lilian.  Now, I have gotten to know her well as a person and I see she really created Lilian and I am triple impressed.

 In many ways, this is an observational film–  you seem more interested in showing your protagonists as human beings, warts and all, rather than immediately judging them. Was that a conscious formal decision or did it simply emerge as you were dealing with the script?

Nick Pinkerton:  I never had much interest in expressly making condemnatory (or laudatory) judgements of any of the characters. I hope that all of the characters come off as both ridiculous and human, which basically amounts to the same thing.  

Sean Price Williams: I love movies where the bad guy has a black hat.  And the good guy is handsome.  The bad girl has hair covering one eye.  The good girl has curls in her hair.  It’s great for fast storytelling.  Our movie enjoys the fantastic truth that almost no one is just good or bad.  It’s important, more important than ever, to understand that every person contains a rainbow of at least two or three colors.

M A I N   C A S T


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"Talia Ryder has quickly established herself as one of Hollywood’s most promising rising talents across film and theater. One of Sundance 2020’s break-out stars, Ryder was nominated for an Indie Spirit Award and a Critics’ Choice Award as the co-lead of Eliza Hittman’s critically adored NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS, distributed by Focus Features. 

Ryder will next be seen leading the indie feature THE SWEET EAST, opposite Jacob Elordi, Simon Rex, and Jeremy O. Harris. The film is a picaresque journey through the cities and woods of the Eastern seaboard of the U.S. undertaken by Lillian, a high school senior from South Carolina, who gets her first glimpse of the wider world on a class trip to Washington, D.C. Marking prolific cinematographer Sean Price Williams’s directorial debut, THE SWEET EAST will premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight.

Ryder recently wrapped production on Craig Gillespie’s next feature film DUMB MONEY, alongside an all-star ensemble including Seth Rogen, Paul Dano, Sebastian Stan and many more. The highly anticipated film is based on the true story of a Wall Street short squeeze that momentarily turned GameStop stock into the hottest investment in town, and is slated to hit theaters this October from Sony Pictures. She also wrapped production on James Napier Robinson’s feature JOIKA for Anonymous Content, in the title role opposite Diane Kruger, based on the true story of Joy Womack, one of the few American ballerinas to penetrate Russia's elite Bolshoi Ballet, as well as the indie film LITTLE DEATH from producer Darren Aronofsky, starring opposite David Schwimmer and Dominic Fike.

Other film credits include the Netflix feature HELLO, GOODBYE AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN opposite Jordan Fisher and Ayo Edebiri, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s Netflix feature DO REVENGE with Maya Hawke and Camila Mendes, Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated WEST SIDE STORY, and Mariama Diallo’s thriller MASTER for Amazon opposite Regina Hall, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2022.

On stage, Ryder recently made her New York Theatre Workshop debut in Liliana Padilla’s HOW TO DEFEND YOURSELF with directors Rachel Chavkin, Liliana Padilla and Steph Paul. She previously made her Broadway debut as Hortensia in the award-winning MATILDA THE MUSICAL in 2015.

 Ryder currently resides in New York.


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One of the UK’s most promising and talked about young actors, Earl Cave has cemented himself as 'one to watch’ within the British acting landscape, shining in a diverse and distinct selection of TV and film roles. 

Earl featured in THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL, a Netflix adaptation Soman Chainani’s New York Times bestselling debut novel of the same name. 

He can also be seen opposite Jim Broadbent in the feature film adaptation of Rachel Joyce's novel THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY which is due to be released on the 28th of April. 

He has also appeared in THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG in 2020, and DAYS OF BAGNOLD SUMMER in 2019, as well as a multitude of other roles in television shows such as DOMINIA and THE END OF THE F***ING WORLD.

Simon REX

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Rex will once again take the Cannes red carpet with The Sweet East for the directorial debut of Sean Price Williams and will star opposite Talia Ryder and Jacob Elordi. Rex received critical acclaim and the Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead for his Cannes-bowing performance in Sean Baker's Red Rocket for A24.

Up next, Rex can be seen in Zoe Kravitz's directorial debut Pussy Island for MGM opposite Channing Tatum. He will also star opposite Sydney Sweeney, Paul Walter Hauser and Halsey in Americana from Bron Studios and in FilmNation's Down Low opposite Zachary Quinto and Lukas Gage, in which both premiered at SXSW earlier this year.

Rex is currently shooting Everything's Going to Be Great, a new film for eOne and Astute. Directed by Jon. S. Baird and written by Steven Rogers, Everything's Going to be Great has started production in Toronto with a cast including Bryan Cranston, Allison Janney, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth and Jack Champion. Rex is currently in post production on the mystery independent feature Providence opposite Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lily James and will next shoot The Leader opposite Tim Blake Nelson and Vera Farmiga, a true-crime drama about the religious cult behind a 1997 mass suicide followed by Nic Pizzolatto's Easy Waltz opposite Vince Vaughn and Al Pacino. Past recent credits include Mack and Rita opposite Diane Keaton and Hulu's My Dead Dad.

On the TV side, Rex can be seen opposite Pete Davidson in Bupkis for Peacock, which premieres in May.

Rex is repped by Buchwald and Range Media Partners.


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AYO EDEBIRI is an actor, writer and standup who stars in the FX series THE BEAR, for which she won an Independent Spirit Award in 2023. She stars in the upcoming MGM/Orion feature BOTTOMS from director Emma Seligman which premiered at SXSW and is featured in the upcoming Searchlight film THEATER CAMP which premiered at Sundance. Ayo has written on shows like WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, BIG MOUTH and DICKINSON and has made a name for herself in the animation space, voicing roles on BIG MOUTH and CLONE HIGH among others. Named one of Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch in 2021, she was also included in the 2022 TIME100 NEXT List and Forbes' 2023 30 Under 30: Hollywood and Entertainment list. Ayo is currently developing an original half hour together with Goddard Textiles and FX. Ayo will next be featured alongside Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Florence Pugh, and Harrison Ford in the upcoming Marvel feature THUNDERBOLTS (exp. 2024) and will voice the role of April in the upcoming animated feature TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: MUTANT MAYHEM (exp. August 2023).

Jeremy O. HARRIS

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Jeremy O. Harris is the playwright and creator of the most Tony-nominated Broadway play ever, Slave Play. His play “DADDY” opened to great acclaim at the Almeida Theatre in London in March 2022, and in Japan at the Tokyo Globe Theatre and Cool Japan Park Osaka. Jeremy co-wrote A24’s critically acclaimed feature Zola alongside director Janicza Bravo, which won two 2022 Independent Spirit Awards. His television credits include HBO’s hit series Euphoria and TV adaptation of Irma Vep.


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Named one of Variety's "10 Brits to Watch," Rish Shah is a rising talent.

Shah can currently be seen in the Netflix limited thriller series Obsession, which released globally on April 13th. He recently completed production on the feature film The Sweet East opposite Talia Ryder and Jacob Elordi, directed by Sean Price Williams. He will also be seen in the Amazon Studios’ romantic comedy Sitting in Bars with Cake opposite Bette Midler and Yara Shahidi.

Shah made his feature film debut in 2021 as “Ravi” in the Netflix film To All the Boys: Always and Forever, followed by playing and “Varun Dutta” in the romantic comedy film India Sweets and Spices opposite Sophia Ali. He then went on to play “Russ” opposite Maya Hawke and Camila Mendes in the Netflix hit teen comedy film Do Revenge, directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson. He also appeared in Riz Ahmed's Oscar winning short film The Long Goodbye.

Shah made his professional stage debut in London playing “Alan” in the critically-acclaimed production of Torch Song Trilogy at London’s Turbine Theatre, directed by Olivier Award-winning Drew McOnie.

M A I N   C A S T



Simon REX


Jeremy O. HARRIS



M A I N   C R E W

Director: Sean Price Williams
Writer: Nick Pinkerton
Producer: Craig Butta, Alex Coco, Alex Ross Perry
DP: Sean Price Williams
Production Designer: Madeline Sadowski
Editor: Stephen Gurewitz
Original Music: Paul Grimstad
Sound Design: Dean Hurley


Original title: The Sweet East
International title: The Sweet East
Duration: 104 min
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Format: DCP
Sound: 5.1
Year: 2023
Original language: English
Country of production: United States
Production Companies: Marathon Street, Base 12
Co-production Companies: n/a
With the support of: n/a


Claudia Tomassini

Paola Schettino Nobile