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‘Frozen River’ Proves An Unlikely Indie Success

12 Jan, 2009 By: Chris Tribbey

LOS ANGELES — Frozen River, the 2008 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner coming to DVD and Blu-ray Disc Feb. 10 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, was singled out recently by actor Josh Brolin (W., No Country For Old Men) as a perfect example of the challenges independent filmmakers face.

First-time writer and director Courtney Hunt shopped the script around Hollywood for years before deciding the only way to get it done was to find money outside of the studios.

“It was grueling,” Hunt said about getting her film from script to screen. “But the beauty of it was it got to the screen with nobody looking over our shoulder.”

The film — about two desperate, broke and rundown single mothers who smuggle people over the Canadian border to make ends meet — was shot on a shoestring budget in less than a month in sub-zero conditions in upstate New York. Featuring many first-time actors, it’s become a surprise indie hit with everyone (with 16 awards and counting). The only people not surprised by its success were those involved with the film.

“The film touches so many in so many different ways,” said actress Melissa Leo (“Homicide: Life on the Streets,” 21 Grams). “The response has been amazing. Am I surprised? No, because I knew it was a great story.

“[Am I] Thrilled? Yes. Pleased? Definitely.”

Leo said playing Ray, whose husband runs off with the money for a new home, leaving her with two kids and no full-time income, was arguably the most enjoyable role she’s had.

“It just happened upon me, like most of my work for 30 years now,” she said of the role. “It’s rare that a female actor gets to play a role like Ray. … It gave me an opportunity to be seen playing a game of hardball.”

Actress Misty Upham — who was found by director Hunt on a Native American actors Web site — said her role opposite Leo may prove to be a launching pad for the rest of her career.

“… Giving me this opportunity to be part of this success, I will never forget Courtney Hunt,” she said.

Bonus features include a director’s commentary, and as it was shot in HD, it was only appropriate SPHE give the film a Blu-ray release. Though Leo expressed mock concern that her character would be seen in 1080p.

“Shot in HD, shown in Blu-ray. That’s the end of my career!” she joked.

Frozen River Sony

At the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, (L-R) Frozen River actress Misty Upham, writer/director Courtney Hunt, actress Melissa Leo, and Staci Griesbach, executive director of worldwide publicity for Sony Pictures.


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