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Debra Granik

Debra Granik

American film director, screenwriter and cinematographer
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American film director, screenwriter and cinematographer
Countries United States of America
Occupations Film director Screenwriter Cinematographer
Gender female
Birth February 6, 1963 (Cambridge)
Education Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, Brandeis University
The details

Debra Granik (born February 6, 1963) is an American independent film director. She has won a series of awards at the Sundance Film Festival, including Best Short in 1998 for Snake Feed (her first film, made while a student at New York University), the Dramatic Directing Award in 2004 for her first feature-length film, Down to the Bone (a tale of addiction she co-scripted with Richard Lieske), and the Grand Jury Prize for Drama in 2010 and Prix du jury at Deauville American Film Festival 2010 for her second feature, Winter's Bone. In 2011, she received the Director's Award for vision and talent at the Athena Film Festival.

Early life

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Granik grew up in the affluent suburbs of Washington D.C. She is of Jewish descent. She received her B.A. from Brandeis University in 1985, where she majored in politics and became very interested in documentary film, democratic media, and feminism. After graduation, Granik started making educational films for trade unions. She later earned an MFA from the graduate film program at New York University (Tisch School of the Arts). While at NYU, she mentored under Boris Frumin and directed her first short, Snake Feed. Granik is the granddaughter of broadcast pioneer Theodore Granik (1907–1970), founder-moderator of radio-TV's long-run panel discussion program, The American Forum of the Air.

Film career

Snake Feed & Down to the Bone

Granik calls filmmaking "an organic, incremental process". Her first short, Snake Feed, was accepted into Sundance Film Festival's labs for screenwriting and directing, and eventually this short grew into her first feature-length film, Down to the Bone in 2004. This film tells the story of an upstate New York mother who goes to rehab to kick her cocaine addiction and ends up falling in love with a nurse and, with his help, descending back into her old drug habits. This film was based on an original screenplay written by Granik and her creative partner, Anne Rosellini. The main character, played by Vera Farmiga, was inspired by a woman that Granik met while attending film school in New York.

Winter's Bone

Granik's second feature, Winter's Bone, tells the story of Ree Dolly, an Ozark teenager who is the sole caretaker of her two younger siblings and her catatonic mother. She is forced to hunt down her missing drug-dealing father in order to save her family from eviction. The screenplay was adapted by Granik and Anne Rosellini from a 2006 novel by the same name by Daniel Woodrell. The film, starring Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes, won the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic Film at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and garned distribution with Roadside Attractions as a result. Additionally, at the Seattle International Film Festival Granik's feature won the Golden Space Needle Audience Award for Best Director, and Best Actress award for Jennifer Lawrence. The film received four 2011 Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor.

The film was shot on location in the Ozark territory of Missouri. Granik cast many of the supporting roles with first-time actors from the surrounding area and all of the homes on screen were established Ozark homes—no sets were built for this film. For the look of the film, Granik kept most of the established aesthetics of the homes in which they were shooting and many of the few mementos that were added to the homes were contributed by Ozark people in the community.

Winter's Bone was shot using a Red digital camera.

Future work

Granik is set to produce and direct an HBO television pilot called American High Life, although the pilot had not been greenlit as of May 2012. The show is a family drama that "follows a young career woman to her economically depressed small home town in the midwest". Granik is also developing a film adaption of Rule of the Bone, a 1995 novel by Russell Banks.


Interviewed by Jeremiah Kipp, Granik gave an overview of the challenges involved in doing a film about addiction:

The traditional storyline in an American film is usually in the form of a V shape. I am oversimplifying, but we see someone tumbling down, they hit bottom, and then they rise up again and find redemption. Anyone who personally, tangentially or culturally knows anything about addiction is aware that it resembles an EKG. Up and down, up and down. Very few people ever get clean on the first or second attempt. For many people, it’s something they have to try over and over again. You get knocked down and ask all the ethical questions like how many chances do you give a person? When is the last chance? How many chances do they get? Can you imagine how difficult it is to fit that in a feature-length film? But those are the questions that are worth asking... The reason why boils down to the word “dark”. It is the scariest four-letter word in American storytelling and in this culture. Our film had a strong reception in Europe and achieved distribution, but that was not the case here. We received so many responses like, “We love the film, but we cannot do anything with it or we’ll lose our shirts. We’re sorry.” The intervention comes from people like Laemmle/Zeller Films. Every couple of years, some mavericks take on this challenge of distributing so-called un-distributable films. They take those films on a small run and allow them to see the light of day. Those efforts are what give a film like Down to the Bone a chance to have a life of some kind.

Debra Granik's films deal with issues of personal strength and will power, like the character of Ree Dolly in Winter's Bone. She cites Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Shane Meadows, the Dardenne brothers, Laurent Cantet, and Abbas Kiarostami as some of her major influences in her directing career.


  • Snake Feed (short film) (1997) - writer and director
  • Down to the Bone (2004) - writer and director
  • Winter's Bone (2010) - adapted screenplay and director
  • Stray Dog (2014) - writer and director

Awards & Nominations

Further information: List of accolades received by Winter's Bone


  • Gotham Independent Film Awards
    • Best Feature: Winter's Bone
  • Deauville American Film Festival
    • Prix du Jury, Winter's Bone
  • Seattle International Film Festival
    • Golden Space Needle Award for Best Director: Debra Granik, Winter's Bone
  • Sundance Film Festival
    • Directing Award Dramatic: Down to the Bone
    • Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic Film: Winter's Bone
    • Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini, Winter's Bone
  • Athena Film Festival
    • Directing Award 2011
  • Atlanta Film Festival
    • Best Documentary Feature: Stray Dog



  • Academy Award
    • Best Picture: Winter's Bone
    • Best Adapted Screenplay: Winter's Bone
  • British Independent Film Awards
    • Best Foreign Film: Winter's Bone
  • Independent Spirit Awards
    • Best Feature: Winter's Bone
    • Best Screenplay: Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini, Winter's Bone
    • Best Documentary Feature: Stray Dog

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