Oscar Directors: Zeitlin, Benh–Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts_of_the_Southern_Wild_posterPoetic without being pretentious, evocative without being nostalgic, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a highlight of this year’s American independent cinema, a haunting feature about a lifestyle and characters that very few people know or are even aware of.

Announcing the impressive feature debut of the young director Benh Zeitlin,  “Beasts of the Southern Wild” deservedly won the Jury top prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Fest, where it world premiered to rapturous response in January.

Since then, the movie has played at the prestigious Cannes Film Fest (in the Certain Regard series).  The entrepreneurial Fox Searchlight will release this quintessential personal indie late June in a platform mode.

The tale, scripted by playwright Lucy Alibar and Zeitlin, based on the former’s stage play “Juicy and Delicious,” is set in an isolated and secluded milieu, the forgotten bayou community, cut off from the rest of the world by a sprawling levee.

The protagonist is Hushpuppy, a young girl around 6 (Quvenzhané Wallis), who seems to be on the brink of becoming an orphan.  Boasting optimism, which characterizes naïve children, and enviable imagination that knows no limits, she believes that the natural order is in balance with the universe until a fierce storm changes her reality.

beasts_of_the_southern_wild_7Naturally intelligent and resourceful way beyond her biological age, she is devoted to one goal, repair her “world,” in its physical, social, and cultural elements, in order to save her ailing father and sinking home.

But how does she accomplish these admittedly impossible tasks, while learning to fight, overcome, and survive all kinds of catastrophes, both nature and man-made.

Sharply observed in its deliberately narrow focus, the film follows Hushpuppy, documenting her various activities, small and big, manageable as well momentous and impossible.  In the course of the narrative, she takes on rising waters, a sinking village, changing times, some prehistoric creatures—in short, a whole universe that she courageously tries to keep with her sheer force of spirit and incredible resilience.  Though some of the obstacles are objectively insurmountable, no task is “impossible” as far as Hushhappy is concerned, and each deserves her full attention and the resources she possesses to tackle them.

Shot on location in the coasts of Louisiana, the film is cast with local non-actors in the lead roles.

Beasts_of_the_Southern_Wild_1-300x168“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a low-budget film that arrived at the Sundance Film Fest “out of nowhere” (so to speak, a highly personal, passionate (even obsessive) project, which is hand-made, fiercely imaginative, and truly an underdog.