Mumbai Hidden Gem: 'Leave No Trace' Honors Lives Lived on the Margins

Courtesy of Cannes
Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie and Ben Forster live off the land in a state park in Oregon.

The director of Oscar best picture nominee 'Winter’s Bone' returns with a stark tale of a troubled father and resilient daughter who endure a daily struggle to live off the grid.

Debra Granik, the director and Oscar-nominated writer of the Oscar best picture contender Winter’s Bone (2011), is giving the nonconformists of the world their chance to shine in her new film, Leave No Trace.

Based on Peter Rock’s 2009 novel My Abandonment, Granik’s new drama is a heartfelt account of a 13-year-old girl (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) and her restless father (Ben Foster) who live off the grid in a public park outside Portland, Oregon.

The father, Will, is a war veteran struggling with post-traumatic stress, anxious to escape the world and his demons. Meanwhile, Tom is a young girl trying to adjust to the world while serving as a safe foundation for her dad.

As in Winter’s Bone, Granik finds herself exploring the theme of survival in a contemporary setting. In Trace, the characters’ willingness to commit to a minimalistic, organic lifestyle was something the director said she felt compelled to examine.

“I’ve grown up in a culture that really celebrates the lives of glamour,” the filmmaker tells THR. “I’m interested in when you don’t have all that. What’s survival like? How do you do that and how do you get that personal force, that torque, that stamina, that release that life is worth living in?”

Through the characterization of Foster’s character, the film highlights the voices of those who struggle with the “ghosts that never leave” and who are “nonconforming in a time of unprecedented conformity.”

“I always feel like you need people to go against the grain to at least ask the question, to at least show what the grain is and how powerful the force of the grain is to conform,” Granik says. “Any thinker in America and other global history who does that ... those are the culture heroes, because they’re the people that get you to think.”

She notes that the film’s two main characters, as committed as they are to their personal codes, could provide a therapeutic “holiday” for viewers wishing to escape this “time of a lot of bad guys.”

The film also arrives amid the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. “I feel very alive,” Granik says about being a female director working in the industry today. “There needed to be room for people of color, for women, for people who weren’t telling the dominant narrative right.”

Trace, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, was the sole U.S. feature to screen during the Directors’ Fortnight section at Cannes. The honor surprised Granik and left her feeling humbled.

“It came out of left field for me,” she says. “I was of course thrilled, because it’s a forum that’s extremely valuable to filmmakers like myself. ... I felt psyched, and I want to be part of that dialogue in that niche of filmmaking culture that works in those ways. I want to be a positive ambassador for America.”

The film is screening this week at the Mumbai Film Festival, which runs Oct. 25 to Nov. 2.