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Little Miss Darkness

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Misty Upham and Melissa Lo in Courtney Hunt's Frozen River.   

Hunt eventually graduated from Columbia’s film school, in 1994, and soon after began the laborious process of developing Frozen River. She spent ten years researching the Mohawk tribe near the Canadian border, befriending a medicine woman and slowly gaining the insular community’s trust. “It took me a long time to feel like I understood enough about that life to make a credible character,” she says.

Hunt wrote Frozen River first as a short, which made it into the 2004 New York Film Festival. Her husband, Donald Harwood, raised less than $1 million from business associates to make the feature. “We had nobody interfering,” Hunt says. “We had no, ‘Geez, the actress really doesn’t want to wear that color.’ In a way we had this wonderful, chaste experience. It was desperate, but it was pure.”

And that’s when I get it. Hunt had left the city, dropped out of the loop, in order to create that space where something pure could happen. It’s taken her a while, but she’s pulled it off. She’s tapped into upstate’s alternate reality, and while it may be harsher and less pretty than I expected, it is, on some level, what all of us came looking for. Suddenly she’s my hero.

Then I panic. What if her aesthetic becomes more polished? What if she goes Hollywood? “I’m not going to catch you directing Charlie’s Angels 10 someday, am I?” I ask.

She cracks up. “No, no, no,” she says. “I’m too old. My personality’s largely formed at this point. I’m pretty much cooked.”


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