Tag Archives: Benh Zeitlan

Countdown to the Oscars: Beasts of the Southern Wild

I take back everything I said about this film.  Now that I’ve actually seen the film!

I had previously passed aside this film as this year’s artsy nominee that would be visually stunning, but not make much sense.  Very similar to last year’s The Tree of Life.

I was wrong.

Available to rent on DVD already, this summer 2012 release is visually stunning but it’s also a very touching tale of survival, strength, and the many different groups we call family.

Introducing:  Beasts of the Southern Wild

I owe Quvenzhane’ Wallis an apology.  As the star of Beasts of the Southern Wild, and at only 9 years old, I think she is well deserving of her Oscar nomination.  And remember, she’s the youngest ever to be nominated!  Wallis plays Hushpuppy, a little girl growing up in the bayou whose way of life is threatened both by an increasing ill father and melting snow caps that will flood her swampland home, nicknamed  ‘The Bathtub.’

I wasn’t totally wrong about this film.  It is artsy.  But artsy is an understatement.  It’s not facetious in the way where it’s a beautiful film, but no one understands it.  It’s just a pure, breathtaking capture of someone’s different world.

I have never lived in the deep south of Louisiana.  Though my city is on the Mississippi, I’ve never lost my home due to flooding, or been forced to live in a shelter.  I am grateful for this film because it’s been the first picture I could see why the resiliency of these people is something to be proud of.  As outsiders, we watch the news and we think, “Oh good, they’ve opened up a shelter for these people to go to.  They are being helped!”

What if that’s not what they wanted?  I’d never even thought of that!  Far away, from my safe midwest homebase, I thought a shelter was a place of comfort.  I hadn’t considered that you’re thrown in there with people you don’t know, possibly separated from your family, wearing clothes you’re not used to, eating food you’re not used to, and that you’re not allowed to go home if you choose.

Don’t misunderstand me, this film is by no means a lecture for the privileged, that’s not its intent.  I’m only speaking for myself, this film taught me a reality I’d not considered and I’m grateful for that education.

And when something opens your mind, how can it be anything but beautiful? 

Having won Movie of the Year at the AFI Awards, it’s up for four Oscars!  Wallis, again, the youngest nominee for a Lead Actress role, the film itself is up for Best Picture, Benh Zeitlin is up for Best Directing, and it’s also up for Best Writing, adapted from previously published material.

Zeitlan and Wallis

I was curious about Zeitlin and where he came from as a new name to the Oscar realm.  A New York man, born and raised, he was making films from the age of 6!  He’s a film school graduate from Weslayan University, whose previous work had been shorts up until this point.  Another tremendous accomplishment for one so young!

He had some great quotes out there about the making of this film so I’ll share a few of my faves with you!

There are funny stories about [the making of “Beasts”] how I went knocking on someone’s door and he came out with a shotgun. Even then, that guy showed up at our gas station two days later, and was like, “I’m sorry. I thought you guys were trying to kill me or you’re from Witness Protection or something like that. I didn’t mean to scare you. You want any red fish?” He’d just caught a bunch. You get real hospitality in Louisiana. I think it’d be much harder in another place because the state is extremely open and a more accepting, hospitable place.

I’m even impressed with the liberty he granted Wallis to define her own character!

She was so focused and poised and just was fierce. She wouldn’t do just what I told her to do, she questioned what I was saying. She’d say, ‘I don’t like this word’ and she’d delete it. I allowed her to own the words and understand what they meant.

One fun fact for you is that both of Zeitlan’s parents are urban folklorists and the founders of City Lore in New York.  They work with and support all cultures in order to document, preserve, and celebrate traditions and all forms of artistry.  Their site is pretty impressive actually.  And it’s no wonder that their son has an element of folklore in his film, Beasts of the Southern Wild.

The people in Hushpuppy’s world believe in the legend of aurochs.  Now an extinct form of cattle, aurochs are the much larger versions of today’s cattle species:  oxen, buffalo, cows.  The last known auroch died in 1627.  They had immense protruding horns.  None of the research I found even notes their discovery in North America, this creature came from Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa.  Early attempts at domestication started with the auroch, and where Beasts of the Southern Wild comes into play is the auroch’s anger toward humans.

What do you think?  Are you interested in seeing this movie?  Check out the trailer to learn more!

Are you on your way to the movie rental?  What do you think about Wallis’ and Zeitlan’s nominations so new in the business?  What have you heard about this film?

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