AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Frozen River
Alternate Title: Mohawk Bingo
Director: Courtney Hunt (Dir)
Release Date:   Aug 2008
Premiere Information:   Sundance Film festival screening: 18 Jan 2008; New York and Los Angeles openings: 1 Aug 2008
Production Date:   Mar 2007
Duration (in mins):   96-97
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Cast:   Melissa Leo (Ray Eddy)  
    Misty Upham (Lila Littlewolf)  
    Charlie McDermott (T.J. [Eddy])  
    Michael O'Keefe (Trooper Finnerty)  
    Mark Boone Junior (Jacques Bruno)  
    James Reilly (Ricky [Eddy])  
    Jay Klaitz (Guy Versailles)  
    John Canoe (Bernie Littlewolf)  
    Dylan Carusona (Jimmy)  
    Michael Sky (Billy Three Rivers)  
    Gargi Shinde (Pakistani mother)  
    Rajech Bose (Pakistani father)  
    Azin Jahanbakhsh (Pakistani dealer)  
    Jack Phillips (Pakistani baby)  
    James Phillips (Pakistani baby)  
    Madelyn Cross (Velma-ticket taker)  
    Donna Jacobs (Evelyn Littlewolf)  
    Trudy Rice (Rosalie)  
    Craig Shilowich (Matt)  
    Brittany LeBorgne (Pat)  
    Justin Kotyk (Mick)  
    Betty Ouyang (Li Wei-Chinese woman #1)  
    Nancy Wu (Chen Li-Chinese woman #2)  
    Pun Bandhu (Chinese Man #1)  
    Scott Chan (Chinese man #2)  
    Joey Chanlin (Chinese man #3)  
    Kenneth Fung (Chinese man #4)  
    Brian Lashway (Rent-to-own man)  
    Paul Borst (Rent-to-own man)  
    Trisha M. Sky (Danceuses Nues bartender)  
    Angelina Kent (Danceuses Nues dancer)  
    Angus Curotte (Wolf Mart attendant)  
    Adam Lukens (Mitch)  
    Thahnhahtenhtha Gilbert (Little Jake)  
    Tom Messner (TV weatherman)  
    Betty Deer (Mrs. Three Rivers)  
    Scott W. Beebie (Surete de Quebec officer)  
    Gary Hemingway (Mobile home driver)  
    John K. Vanvalkenburg (Mobile home driver)  
    Pat Fisher (Mobile home customer)  
    Sherry Drinkwine (Mobile home customer)  
    Konwenni Jacobs (Wolf Mart patron)  
    Catherine Deer (Wolf Mart patron)  
    Melissa-Jean Deer (Wolf Mart patron)  
    Patrice Jersey (Yankee One Dollar patron)  
    David Jersey (Yankee One Dollar patron)  
    Cameron Jersey (Yankee One Dollar patron)  
    Lance Delisle ([Voice of ] Bingo caller, Disc jockey)  
    Crystal Shade (Bingo parlor worker)  
    Darleen Thompson (Bingo parlor worker)  
  Bingo parlor patrons: Joe Clukey    
    Nicole Clukey    
    John Conroy    
    Daniel Dame    
    Donnell Dame    
    Donna Dame    
    Summer Lynn Dame    
    Natalie Dame    
    Donna David    
    Wilfred David    
    Brittany Dennis    
    Christal Dennis    
    Priscilla Dennis    
    Raymond Devins    
    Esther Devins    
    Ruth A. Dixon    
    Linda M. Dombrowski    
    Hugette Dubuque    
    Mary T. Favreau    
    Maria Garrant    
    Jacob Guerin    
    Meaghan Hollo    
    Larry Joiner    
    Elizabeth Martineau    
    Joseph McLean    
    Walter E. Mooney    
    Jane Mooney    
    Jessica Rock    
    Nancy L. Russell    
    David See    
    Cecile Stone    
    Sylvester Watson    
    Carrie Watson    
    Josie White    
    Dino (Thunder)  

Summary: 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. 

Production Company: Harwood Hunt Productions  
  Cohen Media Group  
  OffHollywood Pictures  
Production Text: A film by Courtney Hunt
Distribution Company: Sony Pictures Classics (Sony Pictures Entertainment)
Director: Courtney Hunt (Dir)
  Kevin Pazmino (1st asst dir)
  Vadim Epstein (2d asst dir)
Producer: Heather Rae (Prod)
  Chip Hourihan (Prod/Line prod)
  Charles S. Cohen (Exec prod)
  Donald A. Harwood (Exec prod)
  Jay B. Itkowitz (Co-exec prod)
  Molly Conners (Co-prod)
  Alfonso Trinidad (Assoc prod)
  Jenny Evans (Assoc prod)
  Laura Mehlhaff (Asst prod)
Writer: Courtney Hunt (Wrt)
Photography: Reed Dawson Morano (Dir of photog)
  Waris Supanpong (1st asst cam)
  Kate Larose (1st asst cam)
  Kristian Maynard (2d asst cam)
  Jory Sutton (Set photog)
  Matt Walker (Gaffer)
  David Ganczewski (Best boy elec)
  Adam Lukens (Key grip)
  Nathan Beaman (Best boy grip)
  Justin "Rusty" Bennett (Grip/Elec crew)
  Darren Frohlich (Grip/Elec crew)
  Rob Harlow (Grip/Elec crew)
  Dan Mazur (Grip/Elec crew)
  Georgia Pantazopoulos (Grip/Elec crew)
  Elizabeth "Bette" Stern (Grip/Elec crew)
  Jeremy Conley (Grip intern)
  Mark Tourangeau (Genny truck driver)
  Limon Video Rental (Cam)
  Eastern Effects, Inc. (Lighting/Grip)
Art Direction: Inbal Weinberg (Prod des)
  Brian Rzepka (Art dir)
Film Editor: Kate Williams (Ed)
  Paul D'Amico (Asst ed)
  The Edit Center (Addl ed provided by)
  Inhan Cho (Addl ed, The Edit Center)
  Matthew Honovic (Addl ed, The Edit Center)
  Adam Hutchinson (Addl ed, The Edit Center)
  Ben Lombardo (Addl ed, The Edit Center)
  Tom Lindsay (Addl ed, The Edit Center)
  Peggy Zack (Addl ed, The Edit Center)
  Amy Foote (Addl ed, The Edit Center)
  Karen Weinberg (Addl ed, The Edit Center)
  Alpha Cine Labs, Seattle (Tape to film transfer)
Set Decoration: Jasmine Ballou (Set dec)
  Rachel Filsinger (Asst set dec)
  Richard Peete (Set dresser)
  Max Sherwood (Lead man)
  Joel Hager (Asst prop master)
Costumes: Abby O'Sullivan (Cost des)
  Martina Melendez (Ward supv)
Music: Peter Golub (Mus)
  Shahzad Ali Ismaily (Mus)
  Keri Latimer (Addl mus)
  Rachel Diabo and The Calm (Addl background mus)
  Peter Golub (Keyboards)
  Shahzad Ali Ismaily (Guitars, percussion)
  Keri Latimer (Guitar, vocals)
  Robert Dick (Bass flute)
  Marika Hughes (Cello)
Sound: Micah Bloomberg (Sd mixer)
  Kevin Adams (Boom op)
  Sound Lounge (Post-prod sd facility)
  Tony Volante (Supv re-rec mixer)
  Cory Melious (Sd ed/Re-rec mixer)
  Jason Trammell (Foley artist)
  Roberto Lange (Foley eng)
  Travis Call (Audio post supv)
  LA Studios (Addl ADR)
  Thomas Kodros (Dolby sd consultant)
  Gotham Sound (Sd equip)
Special Effects: Leonardo Quiles Studios (Visual eff)
  Leonardo Quiles (Visual eff supv)
  Marc Brown (Digital film services)
  Lisa Cohen (Digital film prod)
  Nicholas Daniels (Lead eff anim)
  Big Film Design (Title seq des by)
Make Up: Crystal Shade (Hair/Makeup artist)
  Lindsey Novotny (Hair/Makeup artist)
  Brittany LeBorgne (Makeup intern)
Production Misc: Anne Marie Dentici (Unit prod mgr)
  Shamika Pryce (Prod coord)
  Chris Angelosanto (Prod secy)
  Craig Shilowich (Loc mgr)
  Marlo Carroll (Asst loc mgr)
  Patrick Eaton (Key prod asst)
  Tracey Deer (Addl casting)
  Andrew Cesana (Scr supv)
  Pamela Preston (Prod accountant)
  Desmond Racicot (Police tech adv)
  Dr. Nicholas Mayper (Medical adv)
  John Dempsey (Ice tech adv)
  Simon Conroy (Chef)
  Whitney Cipkowski (Childcare)
  Chris Banke (Dog wrangler)
  Jameson Job (Dog wrangler)
  Chris Johnson (Computer support)
  Donald A. Harwood Esq. (Legal counsel)
  Gary Kauffman Esq. (Legal counsel)
  Robert Nevitt CPA (Accounting)
  Andrew Bordeleau (Asst to the dir)
  Eric Lafranchi (First team prod asst)
  Rob Plonskier (Prod asst)
  Eric Hora (Prod asst)
  Justin Halstead (Prod asst)
  Latoya Gay (Prod asst)
  Courier Car Rental (Vehicles)
  Media Services (Payroll)
  PMK/HBH (Pub)
  Craig Bankey (Pub)
  Oliver Russell Agency (Pub materials)
  Russ Stoddard (Pub materials)
  Toby Robin (Pub materials)
  Kelly Conrad (Pub materials)
  Suzanne Trevellyan (Website des)
  Trevellyan Graphic Design and Marketing (Website des)
Stand In: Tim Garis (Stunt coord)
  Alex Kerwin (Stunt coord)
Color Personnel: Offhollywood Digital, NYC (Digital intermediate facility)
  John Eremic (Online ed)
  Yohance Brown (Colorist)
  Bill Scott (Sr col timer)
MPAA Rating: R
Country: United States
Language: English

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."
Composer: Rachel Diabo and The Calm
  Shahzad Ali Ismaily
  Keri Latimer
  Justin Roeland
  Sal Salvador
Source Text:

Physical Properties: Sd: Dolby digital in selecgted theatres
  col:

 
Genre: Drama
 
Subjects (Major): Canadian-American border region
  Mohawk Indians
  St. Lawrence River
  Self-sacrifice
  Single parents
  Smuggling
 
Subjects (Minor): Adolescents
  Aliens, Illegal
  Arrests
  Automobile chases
  Automobile theft
  Bingo (Game)
  Brothers
  Canadians
  Children
  Chinese
  Christmas
  Debt
  Desertion (Marital)
  Fraud
  Infants
  Massena (NY)
  Mothers and sons
  Mothers-in-law
  Pakistanis
  Poverty
  Racism
  Trailers
  United States. Border Patrol
  Widows
  Winter

Note: 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. Leo was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   25 Jan 2008.   
Daily Variety   29 Jan 2008.   
Daily Variety   1 Aug 2008.   
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.   
New York Times   14 Oct 1996.   
New York Times   1 Aug 2008.   
Los Angeles Weekly   1 Aug 2008   p. 62.
New Republic   27 Aug 2008.   
Variety   20 Jan 2008.   
Village Voice   30 Jul 2008.   

Display Movie Summary
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.
 
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