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On the road again

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Mhairi MacLeod discusses the making of documentary Road to Las Vegas with director Jason Massot and its subject, Vanessa.

After speaking to Vanessa for just a matter of minutes, it quickly becomes apparent she is a woman people have no difficulty warming to. A salt of the earth type with a can-do attitude, Vanessa became the subject of Jason Massot's road-trip inspired documentary after her and her husband – not to mention five of their kids and the family dog – hopped in the car and headed for pastures new with nothing but $290 to their name.

Set against snow-capped Alaskan mountains and swathes of sun-drenched Las Vegas desert, the drama of the piece isn't just in the landscapes as the film explores the lure of life on the road coupled with a healthy dose of the American dream; two elements which instantly caught Massot's attention:

“The main impetus of the film is about that human temptation to make a new start. It's a very American thing to just drive off and start life again, something which is completely at odds with the British psyche. Much of the film echoes parts of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath so, in a way, I feel it's a 21st-century equivalent that doesn't shy away from the realities of modern day America.”

Billed as both a family saga and a dysfunctional love story, Road to Las Vegas charts Vanessa's attempts to carve a new life despite America heading for economic free fall and husband Maurice's continued drug use. While an omnipresent camera crew might've been a step too far for a family in crisis, Vanessa maintains Massot and co quickly became part of the fixtures and fittings:

“It was weird having the camera around at first but when you're having to sleep in a parking lot because you have nowhere else to stay you don't really have time to let it affect you. These are experiences I wanted to share and as a story the film teaches you not to give up, to keep going no matter what life throws at you; faith and the hope of something better will always see you through.”

A tale of survival that's particularly striking in the wake of the recession, Road to Las Vegas
is a fitting and timeless ode to the strength of the human spirit.

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