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Sundance ’10 | “Winter’s Bone” Director Debra Granik Keeps It Real

Sundance '10 | "Winter's Bone" Director Debra Granik Keeps It Real

Winner of Sundance’s Directing Award in 2004 for her harrowing drama “Down to the Bone”, director Debra Granik premieres her second feature, “Winter’s Bone”, at this year’s festival.

Deep in the Ozark Mountains, clans live by a code of conduct that no one dares defy—until an intrepid teenage girl has no other choice. When Ree Dolly’s crystal-meth-making father skips bail and goes missing, her family home is on the line. Unless she finds him, she and her young siblings and disabled mother face destitution. In a heroic quest, Ree traverses the county to confront her kin, break their silent collusion, and bring her father home.

With thrilling tension, “Winter’s Bone” depicts an archetypal rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood. Only this time, the young warrior is a girl. As our heroine braves immovable obstacles, she redefines the notion of family loyalty and, in the process, discovers her own power. The spare precision of Debra Granik’s direction is effortlessly profound. Stunningly genuine performances and exquisite visual details capture the textures and rhythms of a world where the mythic and the naturalistic intermingle. [Synopsis courtesy of Sundance Film Festival]

“Winter’s Bone”
U.S. Dramatic Competition
Director: Debra Granik
Screenwriters: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt, Sheryl Lee, Tate Taylor
Executive Producers: Jonathan Scheuer, Shawn Simon
Producers: Anne Rosellini, Alix Madigan Yorkin
Composer: Dickon Hinchliffe
Cinematographer: Michael McDonough
Editor: Affonso Gonçalves
Production Designer: Mark White
100 Minutes

Director Debra Granik on what led her to the director’s chair…

I’m fascinated by other people’s lives, especially when their circumstances differ a lot from my own. My first camera job was filming workplace safety videos, which involved months of watching and videotaping people doing their jobs. I was hooked–from there, I wanted to know where they lived, and the rest of their habits and desires. My first narrative films developed out of a documentary process–finding someone who was willing to be filmed, watching, listening, taking copious notes and many hours of video footage. I still like to use non-actors doing what they do in ordinary life whenever I can in my films.

When I read Daniel Woodrell’s novel “Winter’s Bone”, I was drawn to the characters, the setting, and the sound of the dialog. I felt that the main character, Ree’s, story was one I’d love to tell. The film’s producer, Anne Rosellini, our D. P. Michael McDonough, and I went to Missouri to meet Woodrell and see the story’s locale for ourselves, and this led to further scouting trips as we took notes and photos and wrote the various drafts of the script. Getting familiar with the traditional music of the Ozarks was an important part of that process.

Director Debra Granik. Image courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

In the book, the protagonist has two younger brothers. We decided to cast these roles in Missouri, and held auditions during pre-production. We were excited to find Isaiah Stone for the the part of the older boy, Sonny, but none of the younger boys we auditioned seemed familiar with the kind of lives we were describing. Meanwhile, during rehearsals and auditions that we held on location, I would turn to the six year old daughter of the family who owned the property, Ashlee Thompson, and ask her if she could show me or the boys how to do certain things. I wasn’t sure she could sustain the arduous process of filming, but when we reviewed the rehearsal tapes, I was drawn in by her presence, and the way she was literally at home on the set. Three days before shooting began, we changed the script and cast Ashlee in the role. The change added some interesting resonances to the story. In general, our approach was to confer with and rely on local people to help guide us.

Films that Granik looks to for inspiration…

“Import/Export” by Ulrich Siedl — for its audacity and precision.

“Harlan County” by Barbara Kopple for the mood, lighting, real faces, atmosphere.

“Bloody Sunday” by Paul Greengrass for its camera techniques and strong choices regarding framing, long lens, editing.

“The Dardenne Brothers”, especially for their use of locations and camerawork.

And what’s next for Granik…

I’d love to do a comedy–something where a character has to use humor to navigate the absurdities of life. We’re developing some ideas with some of the people that we met in Missouri, and looking into adapting some short stories as well.

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Sundance U.S. Dramatic & Documentary Competitions as well as the NEXT section to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, iW asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

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