I know I should be giving you the pulse on all of Sundance’s hits and misses, but on Friday I went to the premiere of a movie that falls smack in the middle of the pack: Frozen River. While definitely worth seeing, there hasn’t been much chatter about it one way or the other. Here’s hoping that changes.
The drama follows two destitute women (played by Misty Upham and Melissa Leo) who smuggle illegal immigrants into the U.S. across the Canadian border. Director Courtney Hunt’s inspiration for the film, which started out as a short, were articles in which she read about actual women smugglers who’d drive across the frozen Saint Lawrence River, from Ontario to New York. “They smuggle many different things,” Hunt says. “In the last 10 years, it’s turned more to illegal immigrants. That was interesting to me…. And I talked to smugglers and got a sense of why they do it and who they were.” (Frozen River isn’t a political movie, but thank god somebody is willing to acknowledge that the U.S. doesn’t only border Mexico.) Hunt’s casting of Leo (21 Grams, Homicide: Life on the Street) and Upham was an interesting one: The former is a 30-year industry vet who is grateful for finally being able to sink her teeth into a lead character, while Hunt recruited Upham, a relative newcomer to the film business, off of a Native American actors website. Says Hunt, “I cast her really from her picture and a conversation with her on the telephone.”