Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Heart in a Vise: Part Three

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

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Ray (Melissa Leo) and Finnerty (Michael O'Keefe)

I wrote this film after learning about women smugglers at the border of New York
State and Canada who drive their cars across the frozen St. Lawrence River to make
money to support their kids. The risk involved compelled me to write a story, not only
about smuggling at the northern border, but also about what life circumstances would
lead someone to take such chances. What I discovered was that a mother's instinct to
protect her children is more powerful than any political or economic boundary line.

-- Director's Statement

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

This conversation took place while Hillary Clinton
was still a contender for the White House.


I grew up in this really, really fractured situation, which ,AeP

That's hard on a kid.

It was hard, although I knew my parents loved me. They were cool
about me, but they really didn't agree on anything. Like, I don't un-
derstand how they didn't have that conversation before they got to-
gether, but apparently, they didn't, so that's the background I grew
up with. So that intense Hillary/Obama thing has just completely
ripped me in two. But the Hillary/Obama thing aside, of course
I want there to be an African-American president. Of course!

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Ray's oldest son, T.J. (Charlie McDermott)
I was going to ask about Obama because of his background in civil rights law.
Right, and yet in a way Hillary is my mother's age, and I'm just like, 'Okay,
so she's irrelevant?' She did all this work, and did she have the help of affir-
mative action? Um, no. But he, on the other hand,AeP The horrible legacy of rac-
ism is so evil. In the South, it was really bad, and I internalize all of it, probab-
ly too much. So, that was hard. The last five months-I mean, not the primary-
have been horrible, really horrible, because I really didn't know what to do.
[A few seconds of the above were lost when I flipped my cassette.]
Who were you for?
I just couldn't stand it.
Was it too stressful to take a stand either way? To me,
they both have good points. They're both Democrats, and
they're not that different. People can tell me they are,AeP

But they're not. They're policies won't be that different.
It's a visual thing; they look different, their styles are different.
You mentioned age, which people have been sort of dancing ar-
ound. There's a difference in backgrounds and generations.

I don't mind the way it's played out. I just wish it hadn't,AeP There's all this sex-
ism that's being unearthed, like the 'sweeties.' Because I think Obama's a 'sweet-
ie,' too. Am I being a patronizing bitch? Well, I don't know. There's that tension.
There's a lot in the women's movement and a lot in the African-American move-
ment that we haven't talked about yet as a culture. We haven't talked about a lot
of this subtle stuff yet, and it's bringing it all up. Frankly, it was just painful to watch, and I think that he'll be great, and I think that she would've been great, and I just hope that he can pull it off. It's hard, you know. I guess,AeP Here's the deal. When
my mother was doing her thing, and being politically very unpopular in Memphis, Tennessee, I watched her just be hated because she was taking a stance people didn't like, but they picked on her because she was a woman, and I saw that hap-
pen with Hillary, and I just was like, 'That's so not okay with me,' and so it was
just really painful. So in a way, it's this sort of weird loyalty to my mother.
Well, that makes sense.
With him, I was like, 'But he's great, too.' It's like my parents' divorce-
and I was like, 'No, this is too personal!' Anyway, it was hard, it was very
hard, but you know, we have to get out of other countries and stop killing
other countries' people. And I liked Edwards, too. He talked about poor peop-
le. I don't think it's embarrassing to be poor. In this culture, though, it is
kind of embarrassing-like, it's sort of a shameful thing if you are poor.
That's something you deal with in the film, the assumptions non-white
people have about white people, because I grew up poor. I can see why
they would assume this character is richer-because Ray is obviously not
rich-or that she's lower middle class when what we see is that she's real-
ly lower class, but you make it clear that she still has advantages.

Oh yeah.
And that becomes increasingly clear to her as the movie goes on,
even though her life is spiraling out of control at the same time. It's
hard to watch as somebody is learning the lesson that 'Gee, my life
sucks, but I have advantages, and my life is so crappy right now that
they're not helping.' It's weird not to have that lifeline. I think as Cauc-
asians sometimes there are 'outs,' which you can just see statistically.

Absolutely.
A poor white person on death row is still less likely to be executed than
the African-American in the cell next to them. That's just the way it is.

That's right.
So that was interesting. I wish more people would deal with that.
Well, I think in this country, if you're poor, you ought to be ashamed of your-
self, and you've done something wrong. What they're saying is that you'd better figure it out, so you can fix it, and get on with the American Dream. That's what Ray's trying to do. She's trying to have her version of the American Dream.
A double-wide.
Yeah.
Which must be pretty comfortable, so it's not un-understandable.
Yeah, they're lovely inside.
My mom used to live in a trailer, and frankly, I was a little embar-
rassed, but what can you do? It was her choice, and she was happy.

Right. I guess I wanted to validate each of these characters' points of view,
so it's really whatever shoes you're standing in, so Ray does have certain advantages over Lila, and then Lila and Ray have certain advantages over
the Pakistanis. It's like: wherever you're sitting, and it's important to deal
squarely deal with that, and there's a million little clashes every day, and I
think that's why the Hillary/Obama debate was so interesting, because there
were all these little nuances that make up our differences that are social and religious, and coming from totally diverse parents,AeP Like my grandmother, on the less liberal side of my family, grew up really poor and she raised herself up by her bootstraps and she had been what would be called 'poor white trash,' and she was like, 'I will not be that,' and she literally willed herself into the middle or upper mid-
dle class. Well, that's quite a piece of work, and it's not something I don't respect. It's something I respect. On the other hand, I have my mother over here doing this other thing, so I mean, I think I was forced as a little girl to look, to take a hard look at really divergent points of view and to sit there with that discomfort, and to
be sort of the only one who got to see all these strange, different points of view.
Click here for part four
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Frozen River continues at the Harvard Exit (807 E. Roy St.) through 9/10. For more information, please click here or call 206-781-5755. Images from Sony Classics.

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