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Beasts of the Southern Wild – A Remarkable Film From a New Orleans Film Director

Went to see Beasts of the Southern Wild the other day from New Orleans film director Benh Zeitlin. I gotta say that I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I had seen some quotes like “A blast of sheer improbable joy!” and other such reviewer accolades.

Beasts of the Southern Wild – New Orleans Film Director Award Winning Film

Beasts of the Southern Wild Louisiana Film Industry

Beasts of the Southern Wild – A remarkable independent film made in Louisiana

This independent film was made in the wilds of the Lafourche and Terrebone Parishes in Louisiana and has been in the theatres for several weeks so it has staying power.

I had heard about the little six year old girl the star of the film and how she seemed to be a force of nature. There’s an interview of the director Benh Zeitin in a previous post on this blog talking about his young star.

I was fascinated with this movie before I even saw it because, well, just the title is unusual. It was made lock stock and barrel in Louisiana by film student transplant Zeitlin from New York who’s made his home in New Orleans.

It won grand jury prize at Sundance and apparently blew people away. So I guess you would say I was expecting a lot.

And, well, it delivered. It tells the story of a little girl, Hushpuppy, and her near to abusive father, played by French Quarter baker Dwight Henry who is trying to make her a man, a man in a sense of being able to write her own destiny and not be flattened by the winds of life, symbolized in the movie as a hurricane.

This storm intrudes upon and floods the community of social outliers who’ve chosen a life away from civilization making their home in the swamp on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. The place they live is called The Bathtub and is a wondrous place according to Hushpuppy because they have more holidays than any place else in the world.

This little girl, Quvenzhane Wallis, who plays Hushpuppy holds the entire film together. For someone at her young age to be able to do this with very few words and a few expressions is remarkable.

How they found her is a story in itself, she apparently showed up on the last day of auditions. She had such an impact on the director that he allowed who she was to change the character of Hushpuppy. There is something about her that displays a strong moral center which makes her presence compelling. Her straight forward narration leads the movie.

Beast of the Southern Wild director Benh Zeitlin

Beast of the Southern Wild director Benh Zeitlin with his young star Quvenzhane Wallis

This is an unsentimental yet very deeply moving film. Snippets of philosophical musings are interwoven for good measure lending an air of quiet depth to the whole enterprise.

The beasts, ancient and perhaps mythological creatures, make their presence known throughout the movie. Their final appearance seems to not make any logical sense. But there is something about them, something primal, that you seem to understand at a deeper level, beyond words and thoughts and judgements.

I know that there will be people who’ll walk away from this movie who won’t understand the presence of the beasts. There is no explanation for them other than they are there and they are an integral part of the tenor of the film.

Ultimately, the film is uplifting and a celebration of the human spirit. I felt myself on the verge of tears at one point without really knowing why.

It’s great that this film was made in Louisiana and that the director lives here. I believe that the city of New Orleans and the state are on the verge of something really big in regard to film production here. All the pieces are in place to really make this one of the best places in the world to make movies.

I believe that in the near future film production might even surpass the tourism industry. We have been waiting so long for something other than tourism, which can be fickle and seasonal, to be a great money making gig for the city. Seems like the film industry is going to make this happen.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a remarkable film, very southern, very Louisiana and yet timely and universal. That the filmmakers chose to make this in the swamps of our state says a lot for our industry here, it says a lot for the people here, and I think it says a lot about Benh Zeitlin, who may be our next visionary filmmaker. He has certainly proved that he is not afraid to stretch beyond the mainstream and give us a film that is beautiful, touching, surreal, and courageous.

My immediate thought when I walked out of the theatre is that I wanted to see it again. I don’t say that about a lot of movies, but there was something about Beasts of the Southern Wild that made me proud to be part of the human family and proud to live in Louisiana. Also, happy that this New Orleans film director has chosen to make his home here.

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Posted in Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana, New Orleans Art, New Orleans Life.

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