Seattle International Film Festival—Interview with Debra Granik and Jennifer Lawrence of Winter’s Bone

"[Granik] strove to make each character an individual living in real circumstances who might have made other choices had they been available."

Winter’s Bone arrives at the Seattle International Film Festival with great credentials, including the Grand Jury Prize and Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award from Sundance and two prizes from the Berlin International Film Festival. I don’t want to jinx anyone, but if this film doesn’t scoop up a couple of Oscar nominations (for best film, actress and adapted screenplay at the very least) then the Academy just doesn’t get it. In the meantime, I had a chance to sit down and talk with the film’s director and co-writer Debra Granik and actress Jennifer Lawrence who plays the central character of Ree Dolly.
First a bit about the film: Winter’s Bone (set and shot entirely in the Missouri Ozarks) is a tense thriller in which 17-year-old Ree (Lawrence) is faced with a serious problem. Her meth-producing father used the family’s house and land to secure his bail then skipped out on his court date, so if Ree can’t find him and bring him back to face the law, then she along with her two younger siblings and invalid mother will lose the only home they have ever known. This leaves Ree no choice but to try to find her father and bring him back to face the law, a dangerous task which she is repeatedly warned, sometimes with violence, to give up. But Ree presses onward, venturing further and further into a labyrinth complicated by the opposition of two strong value systems: the solidarity of the family network and the code of silence among people who are accustomed to settling their disputes without involving outsiders, including the law.
What impresses me most about Winter’s Bone is the respect it shows for the Ozarks culture (and I don’t think I need to elaborate on all the films and TV shows which have done quite the opposite). According to Granik this culture is integral to the film’s source (the novel Winter’s Bone by Missouri-native Daniel Woodrell) and as co-writer of the screenplay as well as director she placed a high priority on showing the richness of Ozarks life and honoring the culture. She also strove to make each character an individual living in real circumstances who might have made other choices had they been available.
To achieve the necessary familiarity with Ozarks traditions the actors and crew immersed themselves in the culture, guided by local people who informed them about contemporary life in the Ozarks—including how to hunt and dress game, which provides a memorable scene in the film and represents an important food source for many people in the region. Ree’s house in the film is a real house belonging to a family and many of the props and articles of clothing seen in the film are owned by local people. The lead roles are cast with professional actors (including Dale Dickey, Lauren Sweetser, Tate Taylor, Sheryl Lee, and Garret Dillahunt) but the smaller roles are played by locals who acted as another source of information to keep the film authentic.
Music is a strong point in Winter’s Bone, so I was surprised to hear that it was not originally called for in the screenplay. I’m glad that decision was revised because it adds an extra dimension to the story while conveying a sense of the rich traditions of the Ozarks. Marideth Sisco ( is the featured vocalist in the film and also served as music consultant: the soundtrack includes “The Missouri Waltz,” “High on a Mountain,” “Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies” and “In the Palm of His Hand” among other songs. She and the other featured musicians from Winter’s Bone will release a soundtrack album this summer in conjunction with the film’s theatrical opening.
Finally, I’d like to give a shout-out to the Missouri Film Commission including Director Jerry Jones and Assistant Director Andrea Sporcic as well as the Missouri Tax Incentive Program, which was instrumental in having this film shot in Missouri rather than one of the other locations considered. It’s a Missouri story and a great film as well so everyone who helped make that happen should be proud.

Winter’s Bone will open in St. Louis on June 18 at the Plaza Frontenac. You can learn more about the film and see a trailer at | Sarah Boslaugh 

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