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'Frozen River' Draws Mixed Reaction

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  • Robert Schmidt
    http://www.californiachronicle.com/articles/yb/128176299 Frozen River Draws Mixed Reaction March 29, 2009 By Denise A. Raymo, The Press-Republican,
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 31, 2009
      http://www.californiachronicle.com/articles/yb/128176299

      '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
      States.

      "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
      said.

      "I hope this movie will result in a better one told from our perspective --
      someday, perhaps."

      E-mail Denise A. Raymo at: draymo@...

      -----

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