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‘Mass’ Rides Film Shoot in Hailey to Critical Acclaim
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Sunday, December 12, 2021
 

STORY BY KAREN BOSSICK

PHOTOS COURTESY OF BLEECKER STREET

The reviews have called it “harrowing,” even “excruciating.” But nearly every one of the critics has also applauded “Mass” as a must-see film.

“I know from even good reviews that the movie is perceived as challenging, hard to sit through. But the movie resonates with people who see it,” said Fran Kranz, who wrote and directed the film. “What’s important to me is that people understand the movie is not a movie about a school shooting. It’s about forgiveness, healing, finding a state of grace after loss, after heartbreaking tragedy. Fundamentally, it’s about hope and change.”

Kranz filmed the movie in the basement of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Hailey in the fall of 2019, with the help of The Argyros Director Casey Mott, who agreed to produce it. And he will show it at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 15, at the Argyros Performing Arts Center. Tickets start at $15, available at https://theargyros.org Fifty-dollar tickets include a private reception with Kranz at 6 p.m.

Kranz will field questions after the screening.

The film revolves around two sets of parents who agree to talk privately, hashing over their grief, anger, blame and guilt in an attempt to move forward. One couple’s son had killed the other couple’s son and  nine others in a school shooting.

The parents are played by Reed Birney, of “House of Cards;” Ann Dowd, of “The Handmaid’s Tale;”  Jason Isaacs, of “Harry Potter,” “Star Trek” and “Hotel Mumbai,” and Martha Plimpton, of “Raising Hope” and “The Goonies.”

It’s become one of this year’s independent film sensations, premiering to critical acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival and is now appearing on many Oscar shortlists in a variety of categories, including Best Picture.

The Chicago Reader has called it riveting and unforgettable, in the vein of Tennessee Williams’ works. A “Variety” reviewer called Kranz “a bold new filmmaker who has earned the right to excavate a subject as sensitive as this one.”

The film had its genesis in a college class Kranz took that examined South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, designed to grant amnesty to the perpetrators of human rights violations while offering reparation to the victims.

“We watched a documentary ‘Long Night’s Journey into Day’ that covered amnesty hearings. I was so moved by the stories, the idea of bringing victims face to face with the perpetrators and enabling families of perpetrators to move forward not through punishment or retribution but in a healing way,” said Kranz. “Still, I couldn’t help but think, if I lost a loved one, I would need some form of retribution or punishment.”

The day after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in 2014, Kranz looked at his year-old daughter and shuddered, fearing for her future. He began researching mass shootings, even coming across meetings in which family members of victims had met the parents of the shooters years later.

“It was like the truth reconciliations in South Africa,” he said. “Not great details about these very sensitive meetings between parents but I was able to craft a fictitious account based on South African hearings.

“I also spoke with journalists and authors of books I’d read. And I got a lot of inspiration and clarity speaking with people who’d lost loved ones, such as a woman whose brother died in car accident.”

As he finished the script, Kranz asked Casey Mott for his help. Kranz had worked as an actor and producer on Mott’s debut film, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which screened at the Sun Valley Film Festival a few years ago.

But Mott told Kranz he could not produce the film unless it was shot in Idaho, as he had just become the director of the new Argyros Performing Arts Center. Determined to utilize Mott’s experience, Kranz flew to the Wood River Valley looking for a church that would evoke the idea of “anywhere in America.”

He had nearly given up his search when he noticed one more church on Google maps—the 1885 Emmanuel Episcopal Church. As he peered in the window, the Rev. Lea Colvill noticed him and waved him in.

“Had she not seen me staring through the window that Sunday afternoon, I do not know if I would have made the film in the Wood River Valley,” he said. “But the energy and warmth she exhibited, the connection… When she listened to me tell the story, she said to me, ‘I hope you can start to enjoy being a father.’ ”

Her summation was so penetrating and insightful given Kranz’s work of the previous two years that it scared him.

“My first instinct was, ‘I’ve got to get out of here.’ It was like a therapy session,” he said. “But I walked out and told Casey, ‘I think I found the church.’ I loved its authenticity and modesty. It was clear it was a small parish, a multipurpose church that really served the community and was finding new ways to serve the community through quilt clubs and 12-step meetings in a community, a world that might be becoming increasingly more secular.”

Kranz and his crew spent three weeks in the valley in November 2019—just before ski season when Kranz figured hotel prices would quadruple. They shot the film over 14 days, the basement bustling with cameramen, grips and nearly two dozen Wood River Valley residents in front of or behind the camera.

It seemed like a terrible place to shoot the movie since the crew had to deal with the changing light streaming through the windows over the course of a day when the film was supposed to take place during a 75-minute conversation, Kranz said.

“But in some ways that was the point of the movie,” he added. “It was not about the room but about embracing discomfort and working through it. The room was where these parents first encountered one another and were transformed by the end of the movie.”

It was important to Kranz that the movie would never leave the room but put the viewer in the room with the parents as they did the work.

But he was finally convinced to shoot some footage outside the room, and he found the landscape of grief that lived inside these characters in Quigley Canyon, the scene underscored by a survey tape stuck to a barbed wire fence that looked over the field.

While he had found a field that captured the emotion of the film, he was frustrated that there was a building in the corner. But he got goosebumps when he searched Google map and realized the building he was looking at was Wood River High School.

Since the film’s release, Kranz has had the opportunity to meet with parents who have lost children at Sandy Hook and in other instances of gun violence.

“While writing and shooting, I had a great deal of concern about how communities and survivors and victims would feel about a movie like this. I’ve been grateful that it’s resonated with them in a way that’s truthful.”

Kranz said the film is what he wanted it to be.

“I’ve always been moved by the idea that people can sit down and by listening and sharing the truth can work through differences and find shared humanity and connection,” he said. “We don’t see this in our leadership. We don’t see this in our culture. We need to see more of it.”

Kranz acknowledged that the film has taken an emotional toll on him.

“But I like emotional movies. I like catharsis. And this has been the most rewarding journey of my life.”

CAN’T CATCH IT WEDNESDAY?

“Mass” is scheduled to be on video-on-demand and streaming Dec. 28.

 


 

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