Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Heart in a Vise: Part Two

A Chat with Courtney Hunt (click here for part one)


Although it is days before Christmas, there is no joy here, and as the movie
goes along, its chill begins to seep into your bones. If
Frozen River has all
the ingredients for a weepy Christmas story in the tradition of
It's a Won-
derful Life, it is almost the opposite of that. It is grim reality.
-- Stephen Holden, The New York Times

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Last night, I saw Order of Myths, and you think it's going one way,AeP The black people in town have their Mardi Gras celebration and the white people have theirs, and isn't it terrible that the whites exclude them, and then you realize it's not that simple.


And even though your film isn't a documentary, I see similarities,AePbut my mind is also a little clouded, because I went straight from Trouble the Water to Tulia, Texas to Order of Myths, and it's interesting that everyone's taking a different approach, but your is one of the few films at SIFF that deals with Native Americans, other than The Land of the Headhunters, a 1912 film featuring Washington Natives shot
by photographer Edward S. Curtis. Members of the tribe performed afterwards.


I have little knowledge of the Native culture of the [non-Alaska] Northwest, but
I have seen some of the films that have been made here, and I noticed that Misty
[Upham, who plays Lila, a Mohawk Indian] was also in Skins, which I haven't seen, but I have seen Smoke Signals. I didn't realize she'd done other films. There's a certain freshness to her performance, so you can't really tell. She's good.

[Both films were directed by Portland-born Chris
Eyre; Skins was actually filmed in South Dakota.]

She is good.

It's an effective performance.

She's a natural actress. And what's so funny is that the character
she plays-she is not being herself. She's incredibly funny and does
all kinds of crazy imitations of every possible ethnicity. She kept us-
she's a very funny woman, and her acting is totally-it's a natural thing.

I was wondering if you had to draw a performance out of her.
No, but she was like a one-hit-a one-take-wonder, and then Melissa [Leo] works in a different way, and they'd get to the same place, but usually not at the same time.
Did their different acting backgrounds work to your advantage,
since they're playing people from different worlds in every sense;
not just racially? Although you find out eventually they both have
children. They have similarities that aren't obvious at first.

I just suggested whatever they needed-whatever they were bringing to
the set, it's what we were dealing with. It was funny, though, because every
time we'd do Misty, it would be one-take, and I'd be like, 'I think we got it,
but we'd better do another take, just as a safety,' and Melissa finally said,
'What is going on?!' She and I would work in a more complicated way.
I have to ask the influence question, although I'm not just thinking about your
own work. When you were growing up, were there any films or filmmakers that inspired you, not just in terms of your work, but your life-anything that might
have fed into the person you've become that you saw when you were younger?

Yes. My mother took me to everything. We didn't have a lot of money, so we went
to the movies, and we saw every art house thing that came to the Memphian-that's the name of the theater. And I saw stuff like Paper Moon and The Way We Were,AeP
We're probably from the same generation.
You're hitting on all the stuff I remember.

Yeah, I was a really little girl that probably shouldn't have been out seeing movies like this. I saw Bonnie and Clyde, and then I saw To Kill a Mockingbird-which had been around for awhile-and stuff like that. I remember Sounder, and-oh God, there's a lot of them. And then-how can I say this? I was not a popular teenager. [laughs]
So, you probably watched even more films than you would've otherwise.
In DC, they had another art house, and I could go to these double features, so I would go all the time, and I would see whatever they had, so it would be double-Bergman or double-Fellini or Lina Wertm/oller, so I saw Seven Beauties and Swept Away. And 400 Blows-and, of course, I had to go to film school for somebody to tell me why that was so important. I just knew I'd seen it and that it was memorable.
[In some ways, Hunt's handling of Charlie McDermott's character recalls Antoine Doinel; he's on his own,AePwhile his mom smuggles illegals into the country.]
That's why I was more curious about what you'd seen before
film school, because I think people are taught a canon,AeP

Yes, exactly.
And I'm more interested in your own canon, and I understand exactly
what you're saying. You can see The 400 Blows as a kid and enjoy it,
and then you'll have an adult say, 'Well, what Fran/ssois Truffaut was
doing,AeP,' but you're just with Antoine and you're scared,AeP

If you're like I was as a kid you're not thinking shots,AeP
I'm so not thinking shots in a lot of ways. I'm following the emotion, I'm fol-
lowing the feeling. So yeah, there were those films. There's so many I saw.
Were you already thinking politics when you were younger? Movies like Medium Cool and stuff like that-films with some sort of message. Was that resonating at all?
What was resonating when I was younger was being in Memphis, Tennessee
in 1968 when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated-kind of a big event. I remember it. I was five, and my mother was devastated, and other members
of my family were not, and I saw that rip, and then she went off to go to law school and to be a hippie,AeP Other members of my family did not, and they're still totally-my parents could not be more different, so I saw this issue from both sides, but
I grew up knowing what was happening in Memphis and that the way black people were treated was not okay. I knew that from the moment I could know anything,
that there was this horrible thing going on right in front of us, and my mom was
like, 'It's not happening to you, but it is not acceptable.' So I had this awareness
and this sensitivity about it from the very beginning, and it was all about race. You know, my mom's very political-she's a criminal defense lawyer-and she had to struggle her way through law school-really struggle, since she's dyslexic-but
she didn't look at it that way. She looked at it as, like, more adventure.
Click here for part three

Frozen River continues at the Harvard Exit (807 E. Roy St.) through 9/4. For more information, please click here or call 206-781-5755. Images from Sony Classics.

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