Making its international premiere in Directors Fortnight, Debra Graniks acclaimed Sundance title Leave No Trace left many veteran festivalgoers wondering why so many inferior films had managed to leapfrog it into the Official Selection. Told with great narrative economy, and featuring two sublime performances, the film charts the experiences of a teenage girl (talented newcomer Thomasin McKenzie), who grows tired of the peripatetic lifestyle she leads with her survivalist father (Ben Foster), a PSTD-suffering army veteran.
Interestingly, the follow-up to 2010 indie hit Winters Bone was also based on a pre-existing property. “My producing partner and I were shown a novel we really liked,” she told Deadline, appearing in studio at Cannes. “It was called My Abandonment by Peter Rock, and we enjoyed reading it. Enjoyed imagining [it]. The first pass is in the brain, right? So, you read something and conjure the landscape thats described. There was a very rapid kind of checklist of things that were a draw. That were filmable. That were good about it. Yknow, conducive.”
Though it sounds somewhat unlikely—the pair are found living in a city park—Leave No Trace very much has its basis in fact. “The book was based initially on a brief article that appeared in a Portland, Oregon newspaper,” explained Granik, “[which said that], among the other undetected dwellers of this very large urban park, there had been father and daughter found, and they had been living in a very organized way, that was different to other un-housed individuals. The methodology of how they were living was [only] described a little bit, but that was enough for this author to then want to build [on that]. Their case was sealed after that, and so no one really knows where their life took them, but we know up to the point in which social services intervened and tried to place them in a place they thought that would actually be beneficial. It didnt work for them. So the rest of the story is [the writers] imaginings, and then, through the adaptation process, [our] subsequent imaginings.”
For more from Granik, plus stars Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie, check out the video above.