Beasts of the Southern Wild
A film by Benh Zeitlin
2012/USA/Col/Runtime 93 mins
24th March 2013; 5.45pm
Perks Mini Theater
The Bathtub is a place of myths and wonders, a broken down teardrop of Louisiana marsh and mud in "Beasts of the Southern Wild"and the setting for an extraordinary new drama whose fierceness, like its 6-year-old heroine Hushpuppy, grabs on and won't let go. This is the debut film of the young independent director Benh Zeitlin.
The story begins on an ordinary day in Hushpuppy's life, played with a stunning tenacity by young Quvenzhane Wallis. She lives in a jerry-built shack in a backwater bayou. It's raised on stilts in deference to the water that can rise deadly and fast. There's no sign of a mother, though her presence will be felt at every turn. Her father, Wink (Dwight Henry, a New Orleans baker making an impressive acting debut), lives within shouting distance in the rusted out shell of a bus. It is a reflection of the relationship — there is love, but a certain distance as well.
Most of the action takes place in the Bathtub, a tiny community of impoverished locals—black and white, some descended from Cajun or Indian fishermen—in South Louisiana's bayou country. Because the Bathtub lies outside the levee system, it will overflow in an impending hurricane, and Hushpuppy knows as well as everyone else that ramshackle homes and precious possessions will be swept away. "Any day now the fabric of the universe is comin' unraveled," she declares.
Shot on a shoestring, Beasts is some kind of miracle, a tribute to the people who stay rooted to home against flood and forced evacuation. The shimmer of magic realism pervades the film, written by Zeitlin and playwright Lucy Alibar, and cinematographer Ben Richardson catches its grit and grace.
Sometimes miraculous films come into being, made by people you've never heard of, starring unknown faces, blindsiding you with creative genius.
Benh Zeitlin was born in Manhattan on October 14, 1982 and raised in Sunnyside, Queens, New York City, and in the suburbs of Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. He is a graduate of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. He was born to folklorists Mary Amanda Dargan and Steven Joel "Steve" Zeitlin, who founded City Lore in New York City.
In 2004, he cofounded the Court 13 independent collection of filmmakers, named after a neglected Wesleyan University squash court that Zeitlin and his friends used as a filming site. He moved to New Orleans while making his first short film, Glory at Sea, in 2008.
In 2012, his first feature, Beasts of the Southern Wild, won the Caméra d'Or award at the Cannes Film Festival, the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic at the Sundance Film Festival, and the Grand Jury Prize at the Deauville American Film Festival. The film went on to earn the Los Angeles Film Festival's Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature and the Seattle International Film Festival's Golden Space Needle Award for Best Director. Zeitlin was also given a Humanitarian Award for his work on the film at the Satellite Awards 2012.
For his directorial work and screenplay in Beasts, Zeitlin continues to collect additional independent film awards and nominations.