Movie Club Weekly – American Film Institute


July 14, 2020

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

(2012)

 

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD received an AFI AWARD in 2012 – recognizing it as culturally and artistically representative of the year’s most significant achievements in the art of the moving image.

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FROM THE AFI ARCHIVE

Writer/director Benh Zeitlin changed the location to Louisiana because he had spent time living there. He was particularly interested in the cultural intersection of Isle de Jean Charles, with its population of Cajun locals and two Native American tribes, the Houma and the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw.

Writer Lucy Alibar and writer/director Benh Zeitlin first met at a playwriting camp when they were 13 years old.

Benh Zeitlin was able to finance his collaboration with Lucy Alibar on the screenplay with an $30,000 insurance settlement. A drunk driver rear-ended his car in 2008, shattering his pelvis. Zeitlin and Alibar spent six months in Pointe-aux-Chenes, Louisiana, interviewing local bayou residents and developing the script.

Benh Zeitlin co-founded a filmmaking collective, Court 13, to produce the film. However, much of the financing – $1.2 million dollars – came from the New York-based non-profit Cinereach.

This was the first film financed by Cinereach, which previously had only awarded smaller grants to filmmakers. Other financing came in the form of grants from the Rooftop Filmmakers’ Fund, the Sundance Institute and the San Francisco Film Society.

The crew worked out of an abandoned gas station in Montegut, a small town in the Louisiana parish of Terrebonne. Parish resident Mike Arcenaux developed and operated the pulley system that moved Wink and Hushpuppy’s boat.

Wink’s home was built by Eliza Zeitlin, the sister of writer/director Benh Zeitlin. She also lived in the shack during its construction.

The large Auroch creatures were real pigs wearing specially made headdresses with horns.

The film won two prizes at Sundance – the Grand Jury Prize and the Excellence in Cinematography Award; and the Cannes Film Festival’s Caméra d’Or in 2012. Despite the festival accolades, the film initially opened in only four theaters in Los Angeles and New York City.

Actress Quvenzhané Wallis was only five years old when she auditioned for the role of Hushpuppy. Her performance was so compelling, the filmmakers decided to change the gender of the character to a girl so they could cast the novice Louisianan.

Quvenzhané Wallis received widespread critical acclaim for her performance. She was the youngest person in Oscar® history to be nominated for Best Actress, but she was deemed ineligible for a SAG Award nomination because it was her first professional role, and the film was disqualified for its low budget.

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD was nominated for four Academy Awards®– including Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.

The movie doesn’t end at the credits. Engage with your family, friends and others like you who love the movies. Check out the AFI Movie Club Discussion Questions for this movie and post your responses in the comment section!

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