AFI Movie Club: WINTER’S BONE – American Film Institute
Winter's Bone Film Still - Jennifer Lawrence



WINTER’S BONE, an ominous glimpse into the underbelly of rural family life in the Ozarks, was honored with an AFI AWARD in 2010 – recognizing it as one of the 10 outstanding films deemed culturally and artistically representative of the year’s most significant achievements in the art of the moving image. The film was produced by Anonymous Content, which was founded by AFI Conservatory alum Steve Golin (AFI Class of 1981). 

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WINTER’S BONE – Reelgood

Watch director Debra Granik talk about WINTER’S BONE in this exclusive AFI Archive video:

Movie Trivia About WINTER’S BONE


WINTER’S BONE is based on the 2006 novel of the same name by Missouri native Daniel Woodrell, who was inspired to write the story after observing a young woman try to feed herself and two children with $7 at a convenience store. Woodrell reported feeling “overwhelmed by how faithful the film is to the novel.” 


WINTER’S BONE was filmed entirely on location within the Christian and Taney counties of the Ozark region in Southwest Missouri. Before shooting began, the filmmakers spent two years at a base camp in Branson scouting locations and casting locals. 


WINTER’S BONE marked Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout role and ushered her into stardom. For her powerful performance, she was nominated for her first Best Actress OscarÒ. 


The film’s professional actors in leading roles – including Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes and Dale Dickey – also hailed from the Midwestern and bordering states, thereby bringing their own familiarity of custom and dialect to their characters. 


Ashlee Thompson, the six-year-old girl who played Ree’s sister, had never acted before and actually lived in the house in which the movie was filmed. 


WINTER’S BONE marked director Debra Granik’s second feature film. She began her career studying documentary filmmaking and based her first feature – DOWN TO THE BONE (2004) – on a short she made about a drug-addicted friend.  


WINTER’S BONE was made for $2 million. Director Debra Granik attributed her success at keeping costs low to the generosity of the local community, which provided shooting locations, props and even clothes to offset expenses. Many families were credited with “special thanks” onscreen. 


Although WINTER’S BONE indicates the specific time of year, the film was actually shot in the early days of Spring, from February to March 2009. Many days were extremely warm, presenting the challenge of depicting a freezing climate. This effect was later enhanced during post-production. 


WINTER’S BONE received four Oscar® nominations – Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress  (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Supporting Actor (John Hawkes) and Best Picture.  

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The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

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-In WINTER’S BONE, teenager Ree is responsible for the well-being of her younger siblings in the wake of her father’s disappearance and her mother’s mental illness. Keeping in mind that director Debra Granik was trained as a documentary filmmaker, does Ree’s story seem realistic to you? What parts of the movie depict realism, and why is it important? 

-WINTER’S BONE was hailed by critics for its female protagonist and feminist perspective. Do you think Ree is empowered in this telling of her story? How is her journey transformational to her character, and how does this impact its viewers? Does the film’s feminism also apply to the dangerous Dolly family matriarchs? 

-Ree also witnesses how drug addiction and violence are consequences of poverty and illiteracy, even among family members. Despite her brutal experiences, Ree retains a sense of innocence and wonder. How is this shown throughout the film? Do you think Ree’s spirit hardens through her trauma? 

– WINTER’S BONE marked Jennifer Lawrence’s breakthrough into stardom, and she was nominated for an Oscar®. Describe her acting style in this film and discuss why her work was worthy of acclaim. 

-Locations in WINTER’S BONE take on characters of their own, as they play a critical role in the depiction of Ree’s story. What is your impression of Ree’s environment, and what does it tell you about her life? 

-WINTER’S BONE has been described as a “grim” fairy tale, in which a young girl’s resilience helps her survive against terrible odds. Would you classify WINTER’S BONE as a fairy tale? Can you think of any familiar fairy tales that have similar stories? 

-WINTER’S BONE explores a part of American life that has traditionally been absent from feature films, and this movie was not financed by a big Hollywood studio. Why do you think the stories of rural Americans have been omitted from high budget productions? Is it important for major studios to support these types of films? 

-What is the role of loyalty in WINTER’S BONE? Does loyalty always imply humanity? Why do you think there are extreme consequences for those who are deemed disloyal? 

-Imagine Ree’s story before the advent of methamphetamine. Would her life be any differenct? Would the poverty of her family result in other types of addiction, dissolution or brutality? 

-How would you rate WINTER’S BONE? 

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