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Whatcom County has scenic role in new film, ‘Captain Fantastic’

This screengrab from the trailer for Bleecker Street’s new movie “Captain Fantastic” shows star Viggo Mortensen and his film family’s six children near Artist Point, with Mount Shuksan in the background.
This screengrab from the trailer for Bleecker Street’s new movie “Captain Fantastic” shows star Viggo Mortensen and his film family’s six children near Artist Point, with Mount Shuksan in the background. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Starring Viggo Mortensen of “The Lord of the Rings” fame, “Captain Fantastic” sounds like the latest installment of a blockbuster superhero movie.

Don’t be misled. Mortensen plays a former college professor who is so disgusted with pop culture that he raises his six children in the woods of the Northwest, and celebrates Noam Chomsky Day instead of Christmas. One reviewer calls the story “funny, sad, wise and deeply touching.”

Much of the movie is set in the Northwest, with Artist Point one of several Western Washington locations to make an appearance. But despite Artist Point’s breathtaking beauty, it took a leap of faith on the part of the filmmakers’ to shoot scenes there.

“Captain Fantastic” was written and directed by Matt Ross, who spent time growing up in the Northwest. Ross leaned toward shooting the movie in Washington, but needed to be sure there were settings that fit the script and were workable locations, said Dave Drummond, a location scout and manager in Seattle who worked on the film.

Drummond said they wanted a setting that made clear Mortensen’s family in the movie lived far from the cozy comforts of civilization.

“I pitched Artist Point to them very early,” he said. “They really wanted to convey that they were remote, that they weren’t just outside of town.”

Situated more than 5,000 feet above sea level, at the far end of Mount Baker Highway, Artist Point offers 360-degree views that include Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker. Distant and scenic, indeed.

It’s a gorgeous movie. It’s like a postcard or a love letter to the state.

Dave Drummond, location scout for “Captain Fantastic”

But there was a problem. They planned to shoot footage in the summer of 2014, yet deep snow kept Artist Point unreachable until late spring or early summer. That meant film crews couldn’t plan their logistics and camera locations ahead of time, as customary.

Drummond was confident that Artist Point would prove a wonderful setting, and told them, Trust me, in July it will be beautiful.”

It was, as was a scene showing Mortensen’s bus full of kids descending Mount Baker Highway.

“It’s a gorgeous movie,” Drummond said. “It really shows off Washington. It’s like a postcard or a love letter to the state.”

For film fans on the go, other Western Washington locations in “Captain Fantastic” include Camp Korey in Carnation; cliffs by Decepton Pass State Park; Pack Forest, west of Mount Rainier; Index Town Wall, a stunning hike in the Central Cascades; the general store in Index; and Fall City Roadhouse, a restaurant near Snoqualmie Falls.

“Captain Fantastic” won a best director award for Ross at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in France, and won the audience award for best film at the Seattle International Film Festival. In Bellingham, the movie opens July 29 at Pickford Film Center.

Here are five more major movies that turned to Whatcom County for settings:

“Call of the Wild” - Scenes from the 1935 film starring Clark Gable were filmed by Mount Baker and at Mount Baker Lodge.

“The Deer Hunter” - The 1978 hit about the impact of the Vietnam War won five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Christopher Walken. Scenes were filmed by Mount Baker, although the rugged backdrop was supposed to represent the rolling Appalachians.

“The Grey Fox” - The award-winning 1982 film featured Richard Farnsworth as Bill Miner, a train robber who lived a while in Whatcom County before becoming a legendary figure north of the border. Scenes were shot on Lummi Reservation and at the south end of Lake Whatcom, with a Lake Whatcom Railway steam train visible.

“The Ring” - A scene from the 2002 horror flick showed a cabin at Lake Whatcom, just south of Sudden Valley.

Coming to the Pickford

“Captain Fantastic” is scheduled to be shown July 29 through Aug. 4 at Pickford Film Center, 1318 Bay St. Showtimes are to be announced.

On opening night, the movie’s set decorator and script coordinator will attend a reception and question-and-answer session. Details: pickfordfilmcenter.org.

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