Independent filmmaker Debra Granik first made her mark as a highly talented iconoclast with one of the most successful feature films ever shot in the mid-Hudson Valley, Down to the Bone. It won Granik the Dramatic Directing Award and star Vera Farmiga the Special Jury Prize for Acting at its 2004 Sundance Film Festival premiere. She’ll be back on familiar turf this weekend, for discussions following screenings of her latest feature – a documentary this time – at Upstate Films in Woodstock on Saturday and Rhinebeck on Sunday.
The director is best-known for her second dramatic feature, Winter’s Bone, which triggered Jennifer Lawrence’s meteoric rise to superstardom, copped the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2010 and four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture the following year. Both of Granik’s breakthrough films deal with drug addiction and poverty in rural America, earning her a reputation for bleak, powerful narratives and characterizations that avoid stereotyping.
Winter’s Bone was shot at actual homes in the Ozarks, with much of the supporting cast recruited among residents of the area. One such non-actor was a burly biker named Ron Hall, a veteran of two tours of duty in Vietnam who goes by the nickname Stray Dog in real life and played backwoods meth kingpin Thump Milton in the movie.
But Granik wasn’t done with Hall when Winter’s Bone wrapped. “I realized there was a lot of American history in this one man’s body and psyche: coming of age in Southeast Asia, feeling like a lost and adrift person, coming from a generation of stoic Vietnam veterans who didn’t realize they had PTSD despite retaining all their limbs,” she has said. So she decided to make him the focus of her new documentary, Stray Dog.
After years of living like a hermit with his war nightmares, Hall eventually emerged to attend military funerals and counseling sessions with vets, serve as the benevolent manager of an RV park and learn Spanish to bond with his Mexican wife, Alicia, and help her twin teenage sons immigrate to the US. His story, as captured by Granik, is described as “a captivating, humanist account of a decent American man who has come to terms with himself and acquired a rare wisdom and patience in the process” – or as the Los Angeles Times called Hall in its review of Stray Dog, “a man with a compassion as big as his gut.”
Stray Dog will be shown at 8 p.m. on Saturday, August 22 at Upstate Films Woodstock and at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 23 at Upstate Films Rhinebeck. A live question-and-answer session with Debra Granik will follow each screening. Tickets cost $10 general admission, $6 for Upstate Films members. For more info visit https://upstatefilms.org.
Stray Dog screening/discussion with director Debra Granik, Saturday, August 22, 8 p.m., Upstate Films Woodstock, 132 Tinker Street, Woodstock; Sunday, August 23, 2:30 p.m., Upstate Films Rhinebeck, 6415 Montgomery Street (Route 9), Rhinebeck; https://upstatefilms.org.