It’s an often-heard complaint that there aren’t more movies made with women at the directing helm. For a moment in 2009 people thought that things were changing with Kathryn Bigelow winning the Oscar for Best Direction for The Hurt Locker, but in fact the number of female directors working in Hollywood has halved since 1998 and women comprised only 5% of directors on the 250 highest grossing films of 2011.
Director Debra Granik is one female director that should certainly receive a lot more recognition in Hollywood. I recently watched two of her films: Down To The Bone, her first feature film made in 2004 and filmed on digital video, and Winter’s Bone, her second feature made in 2010. Granik directed and co-wrote both of films.
Down to the Bone stars Vera Farmiga as Irene in a stunning portrayal of a wife and mother trying to overcome her cocaine addiction. It is heartbreaking to watch the predictable cycle of addiction; craving, unmanageability, rehab, hubris, addiction, ad nauseam (the pun is not really intended). Unlike the corny Hollywood version of addiction (e.g. When A Man Loves A Woman) this was much more realistic. Most addicts take a few tries before sobriety sticks and for some it never does. This movie looks unflinchingly at that cycle and asks us where do we draw the line, at what point does someone run out of chances, and when do the explanations turn into excuses?
Winter’s Bone is almost a new genre in itself; Ozark Gothic. It stars Jennifer Lawrence (who is mostly famous for her role at Katniss Everdeen, which is bizarre as The Hunger Games hasn’t even been released yet but such is the hype machine) as Ree, a seventeen year old girl who is looking for her father, an illegal meth lab technician who has missed court and skipped bail. He put up their house for his bond and if Ree doesn’t find him then she, her mother and her younger brother and sister will be made homeless. Winter’s Bone is in some ways reminiscent of Frozen River – a bleak landscape, grinding desolate poverty, a woman who fights even when she should have nothing left in her.
Granik is a woman who takes an original and brave viewpoint in filmmaking and who has much to communicate. Modern cinema needs more of these maverick intelligent women at the forefront.