Monday, January 26, 2009

Frozen River, Produced by Heather Rae

Frozen River was produced by Heather Rae, a very gifted filmmaker in her own right. Her bio at Appaloosa Pictures bears this out. Last year, Heather was kind enough to participate in our Boise State University First Nations Conference and screened her feature film documentary (which was then in progress), Family: The First Circle.

It seems that Heather is quite adept at making films that address difficult issues and does them with a rarefied finesse that is seemingly earned from an intimate knowledge of the subject matter. How else could she get such heartfelt and down-to earth scenes in all of her films? Whatever she's doing, she's sure doing it right, especially if you pay attention to all of the awards her work has been racking up in recent years. It has culminated in two Academy Award nominations this year for Frozen River; one for Melissa Leo, Best Actress in the role of Ray Eddy, and Original Screenplay, by Courtney Hunt.

It seems that the power behind the films she collaborates with may have to do with taking a long unflinching look at the flip-side of our culture that is simply not discussed in polite company. Why should we care about a desperate White woman who is driven to the edge and actually starts smuggling illegal aliens into the country with an Indigenous woman (Misty Upham, as Lila)?

I'm sure that the audience was a bit squeamish at the prospect of an unlikely pair of desperate women smuggling what could just as well be terrorists into the country for a few hundred dollars. Especially when you think about what a pain in the ass it is to go through airport security all the time. What the heck? We have to go through all that crap just so someone can smuggle anyone into the country via some podunk backroad on a Rez?

The irony is that the women are driven to an emotional breaking point in order to try and save their own little families, and are sharply aware of putting not only themselves in mortal danger, but nearly everyone else too. That is one essential reason that the film has you sitting on edge; if things go bad, they can spiral into something quite insane and have you in potential danger too; you don't feel like a passive viewer. Or at least I sure didn't. In this sense, the film was also about the harsh reality of an economic downturn from hell. There is no economic bailout here; people are left to their own devices, which in this case, involves guns, crazed smugglers, and seemingly innocent women driven to do things that would seem unconscionable in normal times.

Oops, I forgot I'm not a film critic. I do have an appreciation for good storytelling, however, and can easily recognize one told with passion, relevance and just enough believability to get me involved too. I liked it that everyone involved in the production avoided the usual stupid stereotypes that nearly always renders stories a bit didactic and therefore dumbs them down to something laughable. It was refreshing that they had an appreciation for the viewer's intelligence, and I got the distinct impression that the creative decisions were not done by committee and there was a decisive vision driving everything.

1 comment:

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