American director Debra Granik is in Australia to present her acclaimed feature Winter’s Bone, which was called “heavy and dark” by film executives and had to fight the image of ‘self-righteousness’ that independent films sometimes get.
“Having things that cannot be solved with a bullet, that’s ‘dark’ for American executives. It is easier to solve things with a bullet; emotion cannot be solved, it sits there… It’s a kind of censorship; the idea that ‘commercial’ means a very specific kind of entertainment,” Granik told Encore.
The situation is not very different from what many Australian films have to face in terms of perception of their content.
“People call this [type of film] ‘heavy’ and ‘dark’, but when other [Hollywood] films have all this violence they are not considered ‘dark’, they are considered a thriller, which is confusing.”
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Winter’s Boneis Granik’s second feature. The film made its local debut at the Sydney Film Festival in June and was showcased at the Melbourne International Film Festival last week. It is scheduled for release on October 28, – it will be the first theatrical release by Michael Wrenn’s new distribution venture, Curious Distribution.
With the faulknerian Ozark Mountains as backdrop, the film tells the story of Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence, one of the front-runners for the Academy Award), a 17-year-old girl whose father goes missing. If she doesn’t find him, the family property will be taken away. She must then embark on a quest in which she confronts her extended kin and a community that might have something to do with her father’s disappearance. The independent film was shot on location in Missouri with the Red One camera (“a powerful weapon”, Granik says).
Embedded with the folklore of the region, Winter’s Bone shows a side of the United States that is rarely represented in film: its deep rural heart.
Granik describes the reaction from studio heads when confronted with this story: “Their fear was so palpable. They said: ‘Audiences will just wilt, they will not be able to handle it’.”
The director also reflected on the pros and cons of the festival system: “The pros are factual; if your film can make its way into the festival circuit, it has a life. A film can either be put in a shelf forever or have a life out in the world, internationally.
“The downside is that with American journalists there will also be a very intense, negative backlash for Sundance films. It is like: ‘Screw you, you self-righteous filmmaker’. For them, Sundance equals ‘self-righteous’. They say that Sundance will always support ‘the dreary and the grim’.”
What is the appeal that Winter’s Bone holds for Australian audiences?
“There is an interest in seeing other American life experiences, besides the propaganda one, that idea of a flagrantly excessive, trivial or very glossy life. Here’s Ree Dolly, who lives in a place of the United States that people don’t see photographed that often. People are curious once an image has been put down their throats for many years. That is why The Wire was of interest here. And also people here in Australia had to go to places that were not hospitable, the terrain was not easy: there must be some sort of identification. I’ve seen archival photographs and it doesn’t look so different from Ree Dolly’s house.”
-By Cesar Albarran Torres