'Frozen River' Draws Mixed Reaction
'Frozen River' Draws Mixed Reaction
March 29, 2009
By Denise A. Raymo, The Press-Republican, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
AKWESASNE -- If the purpose of art is supposed to derive a reaction from
its viewer, then "Frozen River" must be considered art.
It's been about a month since the winner of the grand-jury prize at the
Sundance Film Festival was released on DVD, and American Indians at the St.
Regis Mohawk Reservation have mixed reactions to it.
The film centers around a down-on-her-luck Caucasian woman who forms what
she believes is a necessary, yet uneasy, alliance with a Mohawk woman
involved in the prosperous smuggling of illegal aliens into the United
"Frozen River," directed and written by Courtney Hunt, took the top
dramatic award at Sundance and was the opening-night selection for new
directors and new films at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
It also captured two Film Independent's Spirit Awards, one for Best Female
Lead for Melissa Leo and the Piaget Producers' Award for Heather Rae.
Two Academy Award nominations followed: for Leo for Best Lead Actress and
Hunt for Best Original Screenplay.
"Frozen River" was released on DVD earlier this month, and it seems to have
been gobbled up by a lot of North Country households.
Glory Cole, director of the Akwesasne Library and Cultural Center, said she
had to drive from the Mohawk territory to the Wal-Mart Supercenter in
Potsdam to get a copy of the DVD for the library because the Massena
Wal-Mart had sold out the first day it was available.
"I got the last copy. I guess a lot of people were curious as to what it
was all about."
She asked patrons who have checked it out and the staff who have watched
what they thought of "Frozen River."
"Most of them said it made us look pretty bad. But I told them, 'It's just
a movie. It's meant to be entertaining. It wasn't billed as a documentary.'
"I told them this is what somebody feels is happening here," Cole said.
"It's a movie."
But Cole said she does wonder about the impression viewers from other parts
of the United States are left with concerning Akwesasne Mohawks and
American Indians in general.
"You just don't know how people are going to take it. They might see it in
other parts of the country and say, "Oh my!'"
A majority of the movie was filmed in Plattsburgh, which is what surprised
some Mohawk people who saw it.
"The only thing anybody really recognized around here was in the beginning
of the movie, and that was the sign on the bridge to Canada," Cole said.
"Other than that, we didn't recognize anything from around here."
She said many remarked on the misrepresentation of certain well-known
Akwesasne sites, such as the Tribal Council Community Building and the
Mohawk Bingo Palace, which are both large, bright structures, not the
small, dingy buildings depicted in the film.
Shannon Burns, editor of the Indian Time newspaper on the Mohawk territory,
said she interviewed Hunt in 2004, when the director was researching a
short feature on the reservation, but could not get her questions answered
or telephone calls returned once the full-length movie was out.
"The premise of the film isn't good for Akwesasne," Burns said in a
February editorial. "Camp-dwellers who smuggle humans across the river?
It's not that anyone here thinks we don't have crime, but don't we have
enough real crime and a bad enough reputation without films that give an
entirely false impression of the Mohawk community?"
Doug George-Kanentiio, former editor of Akwesasne Notes and co-founder of
the Native American Journalists Association, said "Frozen River" is flawed.
"The reservation is perceived as a place to be feared, the Mohawks grim and
dangerous," he said in a recent editorial piece. "There is nothing
appealing about reservation life -- no mention of our schools, ceremonies,
health centers or arena.
"We remain a vague people, distrustful of the outside world, even as we
seek to use our status as an indigenous community for profit and without
any consideration for those we exploit along the way," George-Kanetiio
"I hope this movie will result in a better one told from our perspective --
E-mail Denise A. Raymo at: draymo@...
To see more of The Press-Republican or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to
Copyright (c) 2009, The Press-Republican, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
For reprints, email tmsreprints@..., call 800-374-7985 or
847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group
Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.
A service of YellowBrix, Inc.