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A National Geographic Connection to Oscar-Nommed 'Frozen River'
Posted Feb 20,2009

Come Oscar night, Pop Omnivore confesses a special interest in the acclaimed indie film that just about every studio in Hollywood passed on: Frozen River, the story of two hard-luck women who smuggle immigrants from Canada to the U.S. by driving them across the ice-covered St. Lawrence River. The movie scored Oscar nominations for best actress and best adapted screenplay.

The movie is incredibly moving. But there's another reason that we are Frozen River fans. The movie’s producer, Heather Rae, has a past connection with the National Geographic Society—one she says she’s “very grateful for.” Her 2005 film, Trudell, received funding from the Society’s All Roads Film Project, which gives grants to “film projects by and about indigenous and underrepresented minority-culture filmmakers.”

As for Frozen River, nearly every studio in Hollywood turned the project down. But Rae says she isn’t bitter about the tough road to getting it made. “We don’t take it personally,” she tells us. “That’s the independent game. It’s such a risk to make these kinds of films.”

In the end, the movie cost less than a million dollars to make—what a bargain! And it’s yielded great results: Oscar nominations, a Sundance Film Festival prize, and nominations for seven Spirit Awards, including one for Rae for the "Piaget Producers Award." (The indie awards ceremony airs live on Saturday, February 21, at 5 p.m. EST on IFC, then repeats on AMC at 10 p.m.)

Any Oscar predictions for Frozen River? “Our party line is, ‘We’re just grateful to be [nominated],’” Rae says. “There are a lot of movies that deserve support that aren’t recognized.”

She’s also been moved by the warm response from audiences, who’ve been touched by the story of two struggling women—a white woman who can't afford to buy a bigger trailer-home for her two sons after her husband disappears, and a Mohawk woman who suggests the unlikely smuggling operation.

In today’s hard times, a movie about “families [that] are disenfranchised is very timely,” Rae notes.

NG Live will show the movie at the National Geographic building in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, March 5, at 7 p.m. Below: the two "smugglers":
Frozen river

One burning question Pop Omnivore has about Frozen River: Are the scenes of a car driving across the St. Lawrence really real? The answer: Yes!

“Ice scientists tested more than once to make sure it’s safe,” says Rae.

After the weekend of award ceremonies, Rae will focus on her next project: a movie starring Leo of Frozen River, America Ferrara of Ugly Betty, and Wilmer Valderrama of That ’70s Show. It’s the story of a young man coming home from the Iraq War “to contend with his family and his young wife.” There will be no battle flashbacks, Rae says. Rather, her new film will tell the intimate story of an emotional journey home.

-Marc Silver

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