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Oscar nominations: 'Winter's Bone' director is in a strange new world

January 25, 2011 |  8:55 am

Winters bone 

For "Winter's Bone" director Debra Granik, hearing about her film's Oscar nomination for best picture was dizzying.

"It’s one of those things where Roadside [Attractions, the film's distributor] just delivered this phenomenal phone call and I did think they were joking, but then we got serious and are trying to manage the level of appreciation and gratitude."

Why would she think they would joke about something so important? "It just didn’t seem possible, given that it is hard to have a small film enter into this arena. That last leap of how to make a smaller film seem a part of the mix with very prominent films -- how to get someone who is going to respond and be a part of the screening process and how you will get that screener in their machine -- it’s beguiling. But it did get into the machines, even though they didn’t know much about where this film was coming from and it had a whole bunch of unknown names. And that’s stellar."

Clearly, it was those unknown actors who pulled off the movie, as both lead actress Jennifer Lawrence and supporting actor John Hawkes received acting nominations.

What the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is good at, Granik says, is championing something it believes in. "They will always champion actors that put something real and heartfelt and deliver gifts to audiences. A performance that’s truly fueled by heart, sweat, blood, guilt. The academy is devoted to the art form of movies, and they want to see them each year, something they find memorable. When a young actress emerges and puts as much as she can into something, when an actor who’s been working hard like John puts his feet into really different shoes and has to push himself to cross a line, the academy will be there to cross that line, and I think that’s really where they were going."

For Granik, the idea of getting dressed up and actually attending the Oscars is beyond strange.

"I’m a real everyday working person who lives in the East Coast, so there’s never really been an orbit of my life that has intersected with that national scene. So it’s very foreign to me. I have to get advice — and as they helped me all year, Roadside will be by my side. Luckily, it’s me and 65 others. I wish there were more seats. When a film gets recognized, it’s a 'we' thing, it’s 65 people. Luckily, that’s one thing that will really help my experience. A burden of accepting such good luck, if we distribute it amongst ourselves, we can take it on. As far as preparation -- make sure you get your child care in order."

And her wardrobe? That will be a little unsettling as well, she says. "I’ll feel like a transvestite. I’ve never worn a fancy dress."

And how does she feel female directors fared this year?

"It’s like a comet, like Halley’s Comet, it comes around once every 82 years -- but in between, lots happened. So women will make films and those films will hopefully do what Roadside was able to do with this film. Nicole [Holofcener's "Please Give"] made people laugh -- the characters, they had a life, they had rich lives. This year, I did enjoy looking at the other names and the women directors that are making films. We are a group, whether there’s this big, big, big recognition or the better recognition, which is a life for your film.

"Awards come and go and make you confused sometimes because they’re dazzling, but what makes you feel good as a filmmaker is to play in unexpected markets. If you want to talk about a Bigelow effect, it’s encouragement. I was a very direct recipient of the Bigelow effect, in that Kathryn Bigelow made it clear in a very public way that she enjoyed my film. She stood up and said, ‘Hey, I enjoy your film, go and make another one.' "

-- Amy Kaufman

Photo: Jennifer Lawrence, center, in "Winter's Bone."  Credit: Sebastian Mlynarski / Roadside Attractions