Bleecker Street’s Leave No Trace follows a military vet, Will (Ben Foster), and his daughter Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie), who have lived off the grid for years in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Their lives are turned upside down when they are put into social services and live in conventional housing and adjust to modern life — smartphones and all. Amidst all the loudness and grandeur landscape of film, director/writer Debra Granik wanted to lean into the quietness of Will and Tom’s off-the-grid lifestyle for the film.
“The story was quiet because they were living undetected,” Granik said during Deadline’s The Contenders Los Angeles awards-season event Saturday afternoon. “It needed to be quiet to understand who they were.”
She adds that many films are expected to be loud and boisterous, but with this story of acclimation she kept it quiet as we see father and daughter adapt because, with all the noise we usually see in film, we pass the risk of missing important details of the character and the movie.
The film puts a focus on vets in the heartland, but Granik was also interested in the life of a teenage child of a vet, and with Tom, she wanted to explore how she was learning from this man that she loves and relies on in a rich set of circumstances that involves navigating and acclimating to a new life — which includes the “battle of the smartphone.”
Will is certainly aware of smartphones, but as he puts it, he wants us to be able to think our own thoughts. Granik says the film also explores what it takes to live in a hyper-connected society and to think our own thoughts before ejecting it out into the world into amplified chatter. “It’s a tense situation in a modern world,” she said of Tom and Will’s relationship with the onslaught of technology and social media.
Ultimately, it’s a story about a parent and child. For Will, he’s living against the grain and to have a child seeing an attempting to dive into this new world is a challenge. “It’s a threat to not be like everyone else,” she said.
“I was influenced by really rich work with vets, their family, and children,” she adds. “I hope it comes out in the film.”