#52FilmsByWomen: STRAY DOG

stray dog

8/52 STRAY DOG.

I can’t wait to talk about this documentary, directed by Debra Granik. Though she’s only made a few films, everything Granik touches seems to just work. Her short film won an award at Sundance and was developed by their labs into her first feature, DOWN TO THE BONE, which helped launch Vera Farmiga’s career and won directing and acting awards at Sundance. Granik then went on to direct WINTER’S BONE, which was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Jennifer Lawrence.

Despite all this, since WINTER’S BONE, Granik has had a tough time getting anything made. She’s had a development deal at HBO that hasn’t panned out and other projects that are still in the works. She seems to be one of many female directors who can’t get the momentum they need even after doing Oscar-nominated work. In a few interviews I read, she said that she turned to documentaries as a quicker, less expensive way to do the kind of storytelling she’s passionate about.

Her follow-up to WINTER’S BONE is this extraordinary look at a Vietnam War veteran. Granik met Ron Hall when she cast him in a small role in WINTER’S BONE. At that time she got to know him and his family and thought it would be worth following him.

Like the best documentary filmmakers, Granik has an invisible touch. There are no interviews and no explanations…only the sense that we’ve been dropped into the middle of rural Missouri with a pack of biker vets. From there unfolds a tale that feels like an epic American saga. The film touches on poverty, on immigration, on PTSD and homelessness, on love, on community…pretty much everything you can think of. Ronnie is a complex man and the kind of person one might write off at first glance. But his story is so moving and complicated, his kindness and generosity so deep, that it turns everything you might think about Blue States, gun owners, biker gangs and trailer parks upside down.

We get to see what vets are going through these days and how they support and care for each other after being marginalized by the country they fought for; we get to see how a huge population is living below the poverty line with grace and good humor; we get to see how an immigrant family comes to America for a better life and finds themselves adjusting to a trailer park situation. I can’t say enough about this film but I don’t want to give anything away. Make this one a must-see. It will open your heart and your mind and remind you of everything we have to be grateful for.

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