Frozen River (2008)

R | 96-97 mins | Drama | August 2008

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HISTORY

According to copyright records for the DVD version of Frozen River , Mohawk Bingo was a working title for the film. In the Canadian sequences, portions of the dialogue are in French, and the Chinese and Pakistani characters playing illegal immigrants speak briefly in their native languages, all of which is heard without subtitles. The Pakistani baby was played by twin infants, Jack Phillips and James Phillips. The end credits contain a “special thanks” to John J. Barter, David Fogel, and Charles and Edie Rathbone, as well as a “thanks” to a list of individuals and companies who assisted in the making of the film. The soundtrack’s musicians are listed in the end credits with the instruments played under the heading, “Music performed by.”
       As depicted in the film, the Mohawk reservation, as well as other reservations straddling both sides of the St. Lawrence River between New York in the United States and Quebec and Ontario in Canada, has a long history of smugglers, who take advantage of the complicated geographical and jurisdictional interests. According to a 14 Oct 1996 NYT article, the area, often called “Smugglers’ Alley," was used to take cattle over the border in the nineteenth century, and since then has been used as a route to illegally transport drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. Most recently, there has been the phenomena of trafficking illegal immigrants, who can enter the continent more easily through Canada then pay to be transported into the U.S. As the character “Lila Littlewolf” (Misty Upham) told “Ray Eddy" (Melissa Leo) in the film, some passages are paid by people called “snakeheads,” to whom the immigrants ... More Less

According to copyright records for the DVD version of Frozen River , Mohawk Bingo was a working title for the film. In the Canadian sequences, portions of the dialogue are in French, and the Chinese and Pakistani characters playing illegal immigrants speak briefly in their native languages, all of which is heard without subtitles. The Pakistani baby was played by twin infants, Jack Phillips and James Phillips. The end credits contain a “special thanks” to John J. Barter, David Fogel, and Charles and Edie Rathbone, as well as a “thanks” to a list of individuals and companies who assisted in the making of the film. The soundtrack’s musicians are listed in the end credits with the instruments played under the heading, “Music performed by.”
       As depicted in the film, the Mohawk reservation, as well as other reservations straddling both sides of the St. Lawrence River between New York in the United States and Quebec and Ontario in Canada, has a long history of smugglers, who take advantage of the complicated geographical and jurisdictional interests. According to a 14 Oct 1996 NYT article, the area, often called “Smugglers’ Alley," was used to take cattle over the border in the nineteenth century, and since then has been used as a route to illegally transport drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. Most recently, there has been the phenomena of trafficking illegal immigrants, who can enter the continent more easily through Canada then pay to be transported into the U.S. As the character “Lila Littlewolf” (Misty Upham) told “Ray Eddy" (Melissa Leo) in the film, some passages are paid by people called “snakeheads,” to whom the immigrants are indebted for many years. As noted by the Oct 1996 NYT article, the journey contains many perils, often resulting in the immigrant’s death along the way.
       Frozen River marked the directorial feature debut of writer-director Courtney Hunt, a former law student. As a master’s level film student at Columbia University, she produced a short about the Civil War, titled Althea Faught , that was aired on the television series, American Playhouse . Hunt’s second short film, from which the 2008 independent feature Frozen River developed, starred Leo and Upham. The premiere of the short, which was also titled Frozen River , was held at the New York Film Festival in 2004 and garnered significant critical acclaim at several other festivals.
       According to the Var review, the feature version of Frozen River , was made on a budget of less than one million dollars. Hunt’s husband, Donald A. Harwood, who was one of the producers, raised the funds, according to Hunt’s audio commentary on the DVD release of the film. Studio production notes report that the picture was shot with a Panasonic Varicam over a twenty-four day period in Mar 2007. As noted in the end credits and studio notes, the film was shot entirely in New York State, in the Plattsburgh and Lake Champlain area. The LAT review reported that Plattsburgh was used to depict the border town, Massena. In a 10 Dec 2008 DV news item, Leo related that there were about nine days of pre-production, and the cast and crew waited until the ice was thick enough, about twenty-four inches, to drive upon. Hunt stated in the DVD’s audio commentary that the cast and crew often worked at night and in temperatures as low as thirty-eight below zero with the wind chill factor. She stated that, besides bearing the discomfort of the freezing cold, the crew also worried about heat waves that might cause the ice to melt and thus had a scientist on the staff to test the ice for safety.
       James Reilly, who portrayed five-year-old “Ricky Eddy,” is the real-life cousin of Charlie McDermott, a young actor who appears in Frozen River as Ricky’s older brother, “T.J.” Reilly has appeared in numerous other films since his debut in the 2004 production, The Village . In the studio production notes, Hunt stated that many of the actors in the film were “first timers” and in the film’s DVD audio commentary, she pointed out several crew members, Plattsburgh citizens and residents of Kahnawake Mohawk Territory in Quebec, Canada, who appear in small roles or as extras. For example, Donna Jacobs ( Evelyn Littlewolf ) and Trudy Rice ( Rosalie ) were from the Kahnawake Reserve. The delivery truck men and the dancer in the background of the Montreal bar sequence were local Plattsburgh citizens who dramatized their real jobs. The young couple in the “Guy Versailles” sales office were the actual owners of the trailer home used in the film as the Eddy’s house. The television weather man appearing in the film is Tom Messner, a real meteorologist for the local weather station. Hunt and producer Heather Rae, who also spoke on the DVD commentary, stated that most of the people in the cast and crew served dual functions during the production. For instance, location manager Craig Shilowich and makeup intern Brittany LeBorgne also appeared in the film as Yankee Dollar Store employees “Matt” and “Pat,” respectively. The photograph of “Troy Eddy” seen in “Eddy’s” living room was a photo of the film’s gaffer, Matt Walker.
       According to a 25 Jan 2008 DV news item about the Sundance Film Festival, Sony Pictures Classics paid a “low to mid six figures” amount for distribution rights of Frozen River in a deal negotiated by William Morris Independent. Frozen River grossed $2,309,148 at the box office. In addition to being named one of AFI’s Movies of the Year, Frozen River was nominated for two Academy Awards, Leo for Best Performance of an Actress in a Leading Role and Hunt for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. The film won two Independent Spirit Awards (Leo for Best Female Lead and Heather Rae, the Producers Award) and was nominated for five others: Best Feature, Best Director, Best Supporting Female (Upham), Best Supporting Male (McDermott) and Best First Screenplay. Leo won the Spotlight Award and Hunt won Best Directorial Debut from the National Board of Review, which also named the film one of the Ten Best Independent Films of the Year. Leo was nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role by the Screen Actors Guild and Upham won Best Supporting Actress from the American Indian Film Festival. Among other accolades from various film festivals and critics organizations, Frozen River won the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Award. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
25 Jan 2008.
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Daily Variety
29 Jan 2008.
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Daily Variety
1 Aug 2008.
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Daily Variety
10 Dec 2008.
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Jan 2008.
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jan 2008.
---
Los Angeles Times
25 Jan 2008.
---
Los Angeles Times
1 Aug 2008.
---
Los Angeles Weekly
1 Aug 2008
p. 62.
New Republic
27 Aug 2008.
---
New York Times
14 Oct 1996.
---
New York Times
1 Aug 2008.
---
Variety
20 Jan 2008.
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Village Voice
30 Jul 2008.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Bingo parlor patrons:
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A film by Courtney Hunt
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod/Line prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
Co-exec prod
Co-prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Asst prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Set photog
Gaffer
Best boy elec
Key grip
Best boy grip
Grip/Elec crew
Grip/Elec crew
Grip/Elec crew
Grip/Elec crew
Grip/Elec crew
Grip/Elec crew
Grip intern
Genny truck driver
Lighting/Grip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Addl ed provided by
Addl ed, The Edit Center
Addl ed, The Edit Center
Addl ed, The Edit Center
Addl ed, The Edit Center
Addl ed, The Edit Center
Addl ed, The Edit Center
Addl ed, The Edit Center
Addl ed, The Edit Center
Tape to film transfer
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Asst set dec
Set dresser
Lead man
Asst prop master
COSTUMES
Cost des
Ward supv
MUSIC
Addl mus
Addl background mus
Keyboards
Guitars, percussion
Guitar, vocals
Bass flute
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Post-prod sd facility
Supv re-rec mixer
Sd ed/Re-rec mixer
Foley artist
Foley eng
Audio post supv
Addl ADR
Dolby sd consultant
Sd equip
VISUAL EFFECTS
Visual eff supv
Digital film services
Digital film prod
Lead eff anim
Title seq des by
MAKEUP
Hair/Makeup artist
Hair/Makeup artist
Makeup intern
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit prod mgr
Prod coord
Prod secy
Loc mgr
Asst loc mgr
Key prod asst
Addl casting
Scr supv
Prod accountant
Police tech adv
Medical adv
Ice tech adv
Childcare
Dog wrangler
Dog wrangler
Computer support
Legal counsel
Legal counsel
Accounting
Asst to the dir
First team prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Payroll
Pub
Pub materials
Pub materials
Pub materials
Pub materials
Website des
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt coord
COLOR PERSONNEL
Digital intermediate facility
Online ed
Colorist
Sr col timer
SOURCES
MUSIC
"Count on Me" by Sal Salvador, courtesy of 615 Music Library, music publisher DHH Music Co.
The State of Your Union" by Justin Roeland, performed by Pompous Pilate, lead guitar Justin Roeland, bass Scott Janas, drums Bill Lally
additional background music by Rachel Diabo and The Calm.
SONGS
"Ray's Echo," music by Shahzad Ali Ismaily and Keri Latimer, lyrics by Keri Latimer, performed by Shahzad Ali Ismaily and Keri Latimer."
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Mohawk Bingo
Release Date:
August 2008
Premiere Information:
Sundance Film festival screening: 18 January 2008
New York and Los Angeles openings: 1 August 2008
Production Date:
March 2007
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby digital in selecgted theatres
Color
Duration(in mins):
96-97
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Shortly before Christmas, in Massena, in upstate New York, Ray Eddy’s husband Troy, a compulsive gambler, runs off with the money they were saving to pay for a new, double-wide mobile home. The unsympathetic salesman, Guy Versailles, informs her that she will forfeit the $1,500 down payment if she cannot pay by Christmas. Although Ray’s part-time job at the Yankee One Dollar Store barely pays enough to feed their two sons, fifteen-year-old T.J. and five-year-old Ricky, she refuses to let the older boy, who resents her for Troy’s absence, quit school and work. While searching for Troy, Ray finds his car, a green Dodge Spirit, at the nearby Mohawk reservation bingo parlor with the keys in the ignition. As Ray argues with the ticket taker to let her look for Troy in the bingo room without paying the five dollar admission charge, an employee, Lila Littlewolf, steals the Spirit and drives away. Ray chases Lila onto the reservation to a small camper that Lila uses as her home. Believing that Troy is inside and that Lila is his girlfriend, Ray calls for him and shoots a hole in the bottom of the door. After throwing out the car keys, Lila says she saw Troy board a bus, then adds that she knows a smuggler who will pay two thousand dollars for the car, because of its button-release trunk. Tempted by the money, Ray allows Lila to direct her to the bank of the frozen St. Lawrence River, where Lila instructs her to drive across the ice to the Canadian side, explaining that both banks of the river are inside Mohawk territory. At the trailer of a Mohawk ... +


Shortly before Christmas, in Massena, in upstate New York, Ray Eddy’s husband Troy, a compulsive gambler, runs off with the money they were saving to pay for a new, double-wide mobile home. The unsympathetic salesman, Guy Versailles, informs her that she will forfeit the $1,500 down payment if she cannot pay by Christmas. Although Ray’s part-time job at the Yankee One Dollar Store barely pays enough to feed their two sons, fifteen-year-old T.J. and five-year-old Ricky, she refuses to let the older boy, who resents her for Troy’s absence, quit school and work. While searching for Troy, Ray finds his car, a green Dodge Spirit, at the nearby Mohawk reservation bingo parlor with the keys in the ignition. As Ray argues with the ticket taker to let her look for Troy in the bingo room without paying the five dollar admission charge, an employee, Lila Littlewolf, steals the Spirit and drives away. Ray chases Lila onto the reservation to a small camper that Lila uses as her home. Believing that Troy is inside and that Lila is his girlfriend, Ray calls for him and shoots a hole in the bottom of the door. After throwing out the car keys, Lila says she saw Troy board a bus, then adds that she knows a smuggler who will pay two thousand dollars for the car, because of its button-release trunk. Tempted by the money, Ray allows Lila to direct her to the bank of the frozen St. Lawrence River, where Lila instructs her to drive across the ice to the Canadian side, explaining that both banks of the river are inside Mohawk territory. At the trailer of a Mohawk named Jimmy, they are given $1,200 as two illegal Chinese immigrants are placed in the trunk. Ray, outraged, orders them removed, but Lila, holding Ray’s gun, insists that she drive back. As they drive across the lake, Lila taunts her about Troy’s desertion, mentioning that her own husband, Jake, drowned during a smuggling run. In New York, Ray sees a state trooper observing them, but Lila assures her he will ignore them because Ray is “white.” After delivering their human cargo to a motel and receiving more money, Lila tries to take Troy's car by force, but Ray fights back, prompting Lila to flee into the woods with the money. When Ray returns home, T.J. is repairing an old playground merry-go-round he is hoping to sell. Ray scolds him for using the blow torch when she is not around, but the resentful T.J. says Troy gave it to him. He also informs her that their television set will be repossessed the next afternoon and that the only food in the house is popcorn and Tang. Meanwhile, Lila tries to buy a car, but her concerned brother-in-law Bernie, who disapproves of smuggling, has left orders for the salesman, a fellow Mohawk, not to sell her a car with a large trunk. That night, Lila climbs a tree outside the house of her mother-in-law, Evelyn, to look at her baby son, Little Jake. The next morning, Ray begs her callow young boss, Matt, to give her the full-time hours he promised two years ago. However, Matt, giving preferential treatment to the less dependable but younger employee, Pat, says he considers Ray an uncommitted “short-timer.” During her shift, Finnerty, the trooper she saw, makes a purchase. After work, Ray returns to Lila’s camper and demands half the money they made. Then, after Lila claims it is gone, Ray wants to make another run. While Lila grudgingly accompanies Ray across the river, she relates that her son was stolen from the hospital by Evelyn. On the other side of the river, Jimmy directs them to the gruff Jacques Bruno, who loads two Chinese men into the trunk. On the return trip, Lila says she was arrested once for smuggling and given a choice of three months’ jail time or a fine, which she paid and recovered in two nights of smuggling. At the motel, the nearsighted Lila has Ray count the money, which Ray keeps, claiming they are now “even.” Meanwhile, T.J. phones an elderly woman and tricks her into telling him her credit card number, which he hopes the repossession men will accept as payment for the TV. They refuse it, but Ray returns in time to pay them in cash. Later that evening, T.J. tells Ray that Ricky’s Christmas wish is a Hot Wheels Blast and Crash Track set, that has been advertised on television. Although Bernie finds Lila a job at the Tribal Council office, she quits midday because she cannot see the paperwork and, on Christmas Eve, longingly watches Evelyn and Little Jake in a restaurant. On Lila and Ray’s night run, Jimmy loads a Pakistani couple into the trunk, but Ray fears they are terrorists carrying explosives and leaves the woman’s large bag along the side of the road. Upon learning that the bag contained an infant, she returns to retrieve it. Because the baby appears to have frozen to death, Lila holds the lifeless little body against her. As they drive, Finnerty stops and tickets Ray for a burned out tail light, then asks about Lila, whom Ray claims is her babysitter. By the time they arrive at the motel, the baby is moving, which to Lila is a miracle. Meanwhile, T.J. arranges for a school acquaintance to buy and deliver the Hot Wheels set for Ricky, then tries to unfreeze water pipes with his blow torch, inadvertently starting a fire, which he extinguishes then disguises the smell by burning popcorn. On Christmas morning, Finnerty visits Ray, warning her that Lila is a smuggler. After he leaves, Ray sees the blackened corner of the trailer, and she and T.J. commence an argument that ends when T.J. bitterly admits that Troy robbed and abandoned them at Christmastime. Because the damage to the trailer intensifies Ray’s need to pay for the double-wide, she asks the now bespectacled Lila, who has quite smuggling, to go on one more trip. Jimmy directs them to a sleazy Montreal strip club where Bruno holds two frightened Chinese women. Paying them half of the fee, he threatens to hurt the immigrants if Ray refuses to take them. After they are in the trunk, Ray shoots at Bruno’s feet, forcing him to pay the full amount. Before Ray drives off, he shoots at Ray and alerts the Canadian police. Although the police have no jurisdiction to arrest on Mohawk land, they follow Ray and Lila across the ice, as Lila explains they are authorized to confiscate the money. When the ice breaks under the car, Lila, Ray and the Chinese women continue on foot and with Jimmy’s help, find sanctuary in the home of another Mohawk. Tribal policeman Billy Three Rivers reports to Bernie and a tribal elder, Rosalie, that the police want to set an example and have asked for Ray and the illegal aliens. Although Rosalie is willing to surrender Lila, too, Bernie stands up for her. However, soon after, he must inform Lila that the tribal council voted to expel her for five years and will give her to the police, if Ray does not surrender. Knowing that, in any case, she will lose Little Jake forever, Lila offers herself, so that Ray’s children will not be left without parents. Ray starts to leave, but then returns, reasoning that, she is white and has no criminal record, so the sentence will be short. She gives Lila all her money, instructing her to negotiate with Versailles, with Bernie’s help, to get a well-insulated, used single-wide trailer and live on the remaining money with the boys. After adding that there are baby clothes stored in her shed, Ray surrenders to Finnerty, who assures her the sentence will be short. Lila orders Evelyn to return her baby, and then settles into the trailer with the Eddy boys. The next morning, Billy Three Rivers has T.J. apologize to the old lady whose credit card number he stole, then drops the matter. Later, the younger boys have a ride on the merry-go-round T.J. has repaired, as a single-wide trailer is delivered. +

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Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.