In the Cinéma Club of Debra Granik
A dedicated chronicler of the struggles of America’s disenfranchised and underprivileged, writer-director Debra Granik is one of independent cinema’s most vital storytellers and urgent voices. Her filmmaking career began in Boston, working with grassroots media movements such as the Women’s Video Collective. After graduate study at NYU and a Sundance Award-winning short film, she embarked on her first feature, 2004’s Down to the Bone. A bleak but tender study of motherhood and drug addiction, the film featured a breakthrough performance by Vera Farmiga and won awards at Sundance and Deauville. Her 2010 follow-up Winter’s Bone was widely acclaimed for its investigation of the intertwined bonds of family and criminality in an impoverished Ozarks community, and garnered four Academy Award nominations, including Best Actress for a then-19-year-old Jennifer Lawrence. Granik returned to one of the non-professional cast members of Winter’s Bone for a 2014 documentary portrait, Stray Dog. Her latest fiction feature Leave No Trace, which played at Sundance and Cannes, stars Ben Foster and newcomer Thomasin McKenzie as a father and daughter living illegally as recluses in a national park.
Debra Granik shares with us five films she loves.
THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE, Aki Kaurismäki, 2017
Comedy boils the global stew down to our common humanity, making difference attractive rather than frightening. I like that Kaurismäki can engage with heavy contemporary problems in a gently humorous way. And he has always managed to show working class characters as full individuals.
I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, Raoul Peck, 2016
This is a brilliant essay film. It uses some of the tropes of documentary, unearthing and presenting archival footage that cracks history open, drawing connections between previously unconnected historical figures. It also goes beyond that, using other contemporaneous material – ads and cultural artifacts – leading to some trenchant personal reflections. That’s hard to pull off, and very satisfying and throbbing when it succeeds.
THE SECOND MOTHER, Anna Muylaert, 2015
This Brazilian film explores the way that social class divisions inform and confine us, and the horrified responses that can erupt when someone pushes back against that. It examines precisely how change can happen in small increments, leading to a definite and satisfying result.
STROSZEK, Werner Herzog, 1977
For me, this film is about the pleasure of entering into an outsider’s observations of one’s own territory. A German filmmaker comes to rural Wisconsin in the mid-1970s, and sees things that I might take for granted, and shows how ridiculous or moving they are. The emotional range is tremendous. Herzog is not afraid of symbolism. The ending, featuring a dancing chicken in a highway rest stop sideshow, is absurdly devastating.
I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG, Mervyn LeRoy, 1932 / HEROES FOR SALE, William Wellman, 1933
These are two of the ripped-from-the-headlines social realist films that Warner Brothers made in the 1930s. I Am a Fugitive is like a classical tragedy, majestic and horrifying, and very thorough in its presentation of systematic injustice. Heroes For Sale is more melodramatic, covering a mixed bag of problems – drug addiction, displacement of workers through automation, and violent labor struggles. Wellman used real workers and homeless people in some of these scenes, which increases the impact.