MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The drama that won this year's Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival opens in theaters today. "Winter's Bone" is a mystery of sorts. It tells the story of a 17-year-old girl who's searching for her missing father while trying to raise her two younger siblings and care for their sick mother.

Our co-host, Michele Norris, spoke with the film's director.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

When Debra Granik first read the novel "Winter's Bone," she was at once taken with the story's central character, Ree Dolly.

DEBRA GRANIK: It's like - we felt we had been looking for her. We had been looking for a really rich and complex female protagonist to lead a film, and Ree caught us.

NORRIS: Granik was drawn to the girl's strength and her grit. And she was equally drawn to Ree's world - a troubled, tight-knit community deep in the Ozarks. It's a world Granik recreates hauntingly well for the screen.

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NORRIS: In this scene, the local sheriff stops by to see Ree, played by the actress Jennifer Lawrence. The sheriff says he thinks her father has been cooking meth again.

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JENNIFER LAWRENCE: (as Ree Dolly) I know that's the charges you laid on him, but you ain't proved it on him. You got to prove it every time.

GARRET DILLAHUNT: (as Sheriff Baskin) That won't be no hard thing to do. In fact, that ain't even why I'm here. His court date's next week, and I can't seem to turn him up.

LAWRENCE: (as Ree Dolly) Maybe he sees you and ducks.

DILLAHUNT: (as Sheriff Baskin) It could be. And where you all come into this is he put this house here and your timber acres up for his bond.

LAWRENCE: (as Ree Dolly) He what now?

DILLAHUNT: (as Sheriff Baskin) Jessup signed over everything. If he doesn't show at trial, see, the way the deal works is you all are going to lose this place. You got someplace to go?

LAWRENCE: (as Ree Dolly) I'll find him.

DILLAHUNT: (as Sheriff Baskin) Girl, I've been looking.

LAWRENCE: (as Ree Dolly) I said I'll find him.

NORRIS: She's tough.

GRANIK: Indeed.

NORRIS: And you get the sense that she's so tough because of where she comes from. Could you do me a favor and - because most of our listeners will not have seen this film at this point - could you describe the world that the characters in "Winter's Bone" inhabit?

GRANIK: The film is shot in two counties in southern Missouri - Taney and Christian counties. This is a region in the Ozarks that has these very, almost like sensual rolling hills. The soil is very gravelly to the point where hardscrabble sometimes is an understatement. Many, many homes are built by hand. Small additions happen over time so the houses have extreme texture.

And this story, if we were going to attempt this, we knew it had to be there. It had to have local people populating the film visually. There was no chance that this film could come to life in any way that would be close to the book - or close to any anthropological sense of precision - unless we did it there.

And we were inextricably tied - the fate of this film was tied to a local fixer, if you will, or guide. His name is Richard Michael, and he sort of paved the way for us to make it happen.

NORRIS: So how did you actually then get everything just right? Because you went to great lengths to do that. How did you make sure that the clothes were right, that the home was arranged just right and that you didn't fall into some sort of cliches or stereotypes?

GRANIK: Getting things right came exclusively through the fact that the film was rooted on a family's property. The Lason(ph) family allowed us to shoot the majority of the film in their family hauler and then from their neighbors contributed other very significant locations from pastures to ponds to backyards, ways into the woods.

And within that, we had to move very little. Once we agreed to use the inside of a house, the details that were in that house from the ornaments on the fridge to the objects on the kitchen table to the stove and the cookware, those things were in place. There was not really a need to meddle with that.

And then with costumes, we were able to, in some cases, do an exchange where the costume designer was able to make appointments to go to people's closets. And we took these new garments, majority of them being Carhartt jackets, and exchanged them for ones that had been hugely lived in, that had - the frayedness reflected on the person's work life and the tears and stresses on the collar were related to the years worn and the necks hugged, you know?

And, you know, sometimes I'd bring it all down to our 6-year-old guide, Ashlee Thompson, who belonged to the property that we're filming on. She was the granddaughter of the matriarch and patriarch of the family. And we sort of agreed. I just said, you know, in some of these scenes, Ashlee, if you could just play and we'll record that, that would work really well for this. And she was very willing to play along with us in that sense.

NORRIS: So the 6-year-old, Ree's youngest sister, actually lived in the house where you did all the filming?

GRANIK: Yes. She's from that land and that is her home.

NORRIS: Some of the most moving moments in this film are when you see Ree taking care of her younger siblings, telling them to, you know, stir the taters that are on the stove. Or, in one scene, she teaches them how to actually shoot a gun.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WINTER'S BONE")

LAWRENCE: (as Ree Dolly) Hey, look at this. Ash, quit playing around. Come here. This trigger shoots this barrel. This trigger shoots this barrel. Now, there's hardly ever going to be a time where you need both. If you got to kill something big and mean, then you use both.

Now, this gun is what you'll use when you're older. But this one is the gun I learned on. This is daddy's squirrel gun. Now, the most important thing is do not put your finger on the trigger unless you're ready to shoot, you're aimed at your target and don't ever - both of you look at me - never point this at each other. Not ever. All right? Kneel down like you're praying. Yeah, just like that. Yup.

NORRIS: This scene, I understand, was a difficult day of shooting. Why was it hard to get that scene just right?

GRANIK: Firearms for an East Coast person, such as myself, urban person, a person who has no hunting experience, they are already complicated. You know, I have a relationship to those issues that are so much a product of my upbringing and where I live geographically. And to make this scene work, I had to really get in the mind frame that this is something very important that people and families have to pass on to each other. And when children are involved, it has to be taught really well and really carefully.

And the idea that people can imbue children with a very great respect for something was also something that moved me.

NORRIS: Debra, you recently returned from a trip to the Ozarks where you showed this film. What kind of reaction did you get there?

GRANIK: We had, of course, in the home-base screening a very warm reaction because people were so curious to see what the fruits of the labor were. People also have a proprietary feeling when they see their own property, their donkey, their dogs, the props, their garments and, of course, to see themselves or to see their friends and neighbors onscreen and doing, hopefully, what they felt was, you know, strong work.

Then we took it a little further, and during the course of these screenings, I feel like people were rattling off some of these sayings that they felt where the film depicted some tried and true either visual elements of the Ozarks or a vibe, you know, from the weather, from the scrabble. So I felt a very positive reaction.

NORRIS: Debra Granik, thanks so much for talking to us.

GRANIK: Thank you very much.

NORRIS: Debra Granik is the director of the film "Winter's Bone."

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SIEGEL: You can read a review of "Winter's Bone" and watch scenes from the film in the movies section of our website, npr.org.

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BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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