Reprinted From the Independent Weekly. A longer transcript of this interview will appear on this site at a later date.
Local Art Houses—For her first feature film, writer/ director Courtney Hunt chose to highlight a class of Americans who are often ignored in cinema—the working poor. “I’m interested in people who are marginalized,” says Hunt, whose film, the acclaimed Frozen River, premieres in the Triangle this week. “We go so far out of our way to create these hyper-realities—all these escapist-fantasy-adventure dramas—and there is just so much drama going in people’s lives. You don’t have to go far to create big drama—there is a lot of stuff going on in people’s everyday lives that is worth a movie.”
Frozen River earned the Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival for its depiction of two mothers in upstate New York, played by Melissa Leo and Misty Upham, who become human smugglers to earn desperately needed extra cash. Hunt says her goal with the film was “to capture the feel of a documentary.”
“I wanted the feeling that the characters were on the edge—I wanted them to know it and to see it, because that’s the way many people who are poor are sometimes [living], and I wanted you to go into their houses and walk in their shoes and feel that,” Hunt says.
Hunt discovered the story through news stories of women smugglers and says she interviewed residents on a Mohawk reservation, incorporating their lifestyle into the story: “I had a sense of how that culture played out in the present day in these people’s lives, and that’s how I developed the character of Lila.”
Hunt is currently looking for her next project as Frozen River heads into wide release with rave reviews. Though the film’s 24-day shoot was “fast and intense,” she admits that she’s imagined continuing the story: “In my mind there’s a 10-part sequel where every week a person of a different nationality or different culture could jump out of [Leo’s character’s] trunk.” —Zack Smith