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Debra Granik made the kind of movies that showcased characters who seemed to collectively suffer infinite emotional pain and financial hardships, yet she was still able to instill in her viewers a sense of hope and redemption. Granik first gained prominence with her award-winning short film, "Snake Feed" (1997), about individuals coping with their own painful drug addiction. Inspired by real-life events and people, she explored the drug theme once again in her directorial film feature debut, "Down to the Bone" (2004), an indie gem that showcased Granik's deft use of realism and loose narrative. But it was her 2010 masterpiece, "Winter's Bone," a harrowing yet beautifully shot drama about a strong-willed young woman coping with the cruelty of living in the Ozark Mountains that cast a spotlight on Granik's genius for the mainstream moviegoers, making her one of the most inspiring and compelling filmmakers of a new generation.
Born on Feb. 6, 1963 in Cambridge, MA, Debra Granik grew up in an affluent suburb of Washington, D.C. The future filmmaker was the granddaughter of renowned broadcasting pioneer, Theodore Granik. She studied documentary film history at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA, where she graduated with a degree in politics in 1985. Granik next earned a masters degree from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. While still in grad school, Granik wrote and directed her first film, "Snake Feed," which won the Best Short award at the Sundance Film Festival in 1998. A gripping drama about a woman trying to raise a family while dealing with drug addiction, "Snake Feed" gave the film industry its first glimpse of Granik's directorial style, which was slightly reminiscent of Eastern European neo-realism and post-World War II British contemporary cinema - both of which relied heavily on the use of symbolism. However, while her dialogue had a tendency to become over-stylized, Granik's narrative seemed looser, which allowed her characters to appear natural onscreen and enhanced the film's realism.
Granik's feature film debut, "Down to the Bone," earned her a slew of awards, including the Dramatic-Directing Award at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. An extension of "Snake Feed," the harrowing film starred Vera Farmiga, who delivered a breakout performance as an upstate New York mother trying to overcome her secret cocaine addiction for the sake of her children. For her work, Farmiga also won Best Actress awards from the 2004 Sundance Film Festival and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Granik's eye for choosing the perfect setting to add mood was reflected in the film being shot mostly in soul-draining suburban landscapes. To infuse the movie with even more realism, she eschewed using only professional actors and instead cast real-life recovering drug addicts to in some of the roles.
In 2010, Granik directed one of that year's most talked about films, "Winter's Bone," a chilling, slow-paced thriller about a teenage girl forced to play surrogate parent and deal with the perilous meth-fueled world of the Ozarks Mountains to save her family from destitution. Based on Daniel Woodrell's 2006 novel of the same name, "Winter's Bone" stunned audiences and critics alike during its 2010 Sundance debut, and nabbed the Grand Jury Prize for drama. The film starred Jennifer Lawrence, who delivered a genuine and riveting performance as Ree Dolly, a young woman caring for her impoverished family as she attempts to track down her missing father before they lose their home. Determined to keep the story as authentic as possible, Granik shot entirely in the Missouri Ozarks, and documented some of the routines of several Ozark families, as well as cast local residents. Granik also took meticulous steps in casting the right actress to embody Ree Dolly. To ensure that Lawrence looked the part, Granik pressed a wool cap low on the angelic-looking actress' head and covered her up in oversized flannel for much of the movie. Thanks to Granik's unsparing direction, strong performances, and exquisite imagery, "Winter's Bone" came away with seven nominations from the 2010 Independent Spirit Awards, as well as an Oscar nod for Best Adapted Screenplay, which Granik shared with her co-writer and the film's producer, Anne Rosellini.
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