BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD CAPTURES THE CROWD
Magical films that win prestigious awards are like superheroes: they capture the viewer’s imagination and they have interesting origin stories. Which is why the appearance of director Benh Zeitlin was sure to be a highlight. Zeitlin’s film took home the Best First Feature Film award at Cannes and the Grand Jury Prize for Narrative at Sundance, after all.
During the Q&A following the screening, Zeitlin said the origin of Beasts of the Southern Wild started with a lot of time driving in the Louisiana Bayou, following dead end roads to see just what and who lived there. These discoveries provided him with the setting for a story where the bestial aspects of man and nature could be explored. Then, Zeitlin teamed up with writer Lucy Albar. They adapted her poignant stage play about a father and daughter, Juicy and Delicious, for the screenplay.
But these two important elements were not enough to create a film that wins two prestigious festival awards and secures distribution—there needed to be more. Hearing and seeing the two main actors from the film during the Q&A illuminated the next key ingredient.
Not only did Zeitlin and the producers discover and sign local actors, Zeitlin then spent time listening to their personal stories and added those elements to the screenplay.
It is the personal experience that the real-world actors Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry add to the film, like a rich gumbo, that gives the film its magic.
Dwight Henry, who plays the father, is a baker and business owner, and he brings an integrity to the role that must aid him in his real life as the proprietor of a renowned local bakery.
Quvenzhané Wallis plays Hushpuppy, the daughter and narrator. She talked about bringing her own five-year-old insight and imaginative viewpoint to the story. Somehow, the filmmakers found the heart of Hushpuppy in Quvenzhané and successfully captured it on film. The word “organic” is often used to describe these types of films, but Beasts of the Southern Wild goes beyond organic into fantasy folklore.
Based on audience reaction, the film has a good chance of winning the Audience Award at this year’s Festival. That would make it the third high profile festival award for the film—just in time for its June 27 opening. This was a great start for the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival, and I look forward to seeing more such films that take us to places beyond our imagination.
—By Jim Lichacz for Film Independent
June 16th, 2012 • No Comments