New Directors/New Films - "Frozen River" - March 26, 2008
MoMA – New York, NY
March 26, 2008
Frozen River Director/Writer Courtney Hunt and Actress Melissa Leo
At the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City Wednesday night, the Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize-Winning Frozen River opened the New Directors/New Films series, a joint program between the Department of Film at MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Frozen River is the feature directorial debut of filmmaker Courtney Hunt. The film stars the sure-to-be remembered at Academy-voting time actress Melissa Leo (21 Grams) who portrays the ultimate desperate housewife who after her gambling addicted husband leaves her and her two children, goes to desperate measures to pay the bills for her family by helping a Mohawk Native American woman smuggle illegal immigrants from Canada into the U.S. via a frozen river on the border of an upstate New York town.
Hunt and Leo were on hand after the screening for a Q&A with the audience. The Film Society’s Rich Peña kicked off the discussion.
Peña: How did you make the transition from the film starting off as a short into a feature?
Hunt: I had an idea a long time ago of women smugglers. I knew this went on at the border. Back then it was cigarette smuggling, but no one was interested in that for a film. I put the idea aside and had a baby. I later made the short. It was accepted into the New York Film Festival, which was shocking. I took that lift and developed it into a feature.
Q: How long did it take to complete the feature?
Hunt: Since making the short, it probably took about three years just to get financed.
Peña: How did you get involved with the film?
Leo: At a 21 Grams after party, I met Courtney who came up to me and asked if I wanted to do a short. I’d say it was about three years after making the short that I asked Courtney, when are we making the feature? The experience of making the short was a vital tool to making the feature by learning what the conditions would be to work in. We were very well prepared for it.
Q: Did you have a relationship with the Mohawk Nation?
Hunt: I found Misty Upham (who plays Lila) through a Native American actors website. She is not Mohawk. The short was shot on a reservation. We had a lot of support there. The feature was shot in Plattsburgh, NY. My producer Heather Rae also made contact with a reservation and cast actors there.
Q: Is there any underlying message in the film that crime pays?
Leo: What she (my character) wants is more than she can bare and has to step down a notch to get it.