Film takes audience on ‘Fantastic’ journey
Filmmaker Matt Ross is back at Sundance this year with "Captain Fantastic," a follow-up to 2012’s "28 Hotel Rooms," which screened in the Next category and whose stylized foreign-film elements he characterized in a recent conversation with The Park Record from his home in Los Angeles as "a French film in English."
A review in The Hollywood Reporter at the time even suggested that it might have gone over with audiences more readily "if dubbed into French and decked with subtitles."
It was during post-production on that film that the writer, director, and actor first began assembling the screenplay for the film he brings to the Festival this year.
"Captain Fantastic" unfolds deep within the densely forested isolation of the Pacific Northwest where Ben (Viggo Mortensen) is committed to raising his family off the grid with heavy emphasis on wide-ranging academics, first-rate physicality, and deep connections to the natural environment.
When a tragic intervening variable forces their exit from their own private paradise, the family’s interaction with the outside world influences Ben to take a long, difficult look at his own concepts of parenthood. And therein dwells the crux of the story.
Admitting there are a few autobiographical nuances to his film — he did live off the grid for part of his upbringing — his story and original screenplay, while subscribing to his aesthetic "sweet spots" to be both intellectually stimulating and emotionally moving, are cut from whole cloth.
Ross had always considered Mortensen "one of our great actors" and had slipped him a copy of the screenplay early on. Viggo was drawn to it but, at the time, couldn’t really identify a window in which his availability for might match his interest in the project.
"Viggo was an easy first choice, casting him was intuitive," according to Ross.
Once that was settled and the rest of the cast in place (Ann Dowd, Steve Zahn, Kathryn Hahn, George MacKay, Frank Langella, and a family of six he had scouted via taped auditions from around the world), principal filming commenced.
Admittedly, the audition process for the "children" was "a daunting equation, a very tall order, balancing acting skills with the required physical vocabulary." It seemingly proved to be well worth the effort, however, as both Ross and the programmers at Sundance appear more than well pleased with the outcome.
Shooting, which took place in both Washington state and New Mexico, had few if any obstacles. It was a no-brainer to take the extra time to tread softly within the pristine forested landscapes of the northwest, while only the many road miles required to adequately present the quite-enchanting landscape of the southwest would later test the production crew.
Ultimately, the story about what you do when, as a parent, your belief system is challenged by circumstance appears to be in the best of hands. Matt Ross, with skill sets acquired from the acting, directing, and writing disciplines, is well within his element as a filmmaker. No doubt the Sundance Film Festival will see much more of his talent.
6:30 PM SAT 1/23 Eccles Theatre 9:00 AM SUN 1/24 Library Center Theatre 9:15 PM SUN 1/24 The Grand Theatre 12:00 PM MON 1/25 Sundance Mountain Resort Screening Room 7:00 PM TUE 1/26 Redstone Cinema 2 9:00 PM FRI 1/29 Broadway Centre Cinema 6 3:30 PM SAT 1/30 Eccles Theatre
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The recognition left Jewish Family Service Executive Director Ellen Silver speechless, which she joked “doesn’t happen very often.”