Nate von Zumwalt, Editorial Coordinator
Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild does much more than simply defy categorization. Rather, it creates its own world—or as Senior Programmer John Nein puts it, “Beasts exists entirely in its own universe.” And that universe is one just fantastical enough to summon our childlike wonder, but with a plausibility that captivates the intellect and invigorates the soul.
Beasts premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, where after the first weekend it became the unofficial consensus pick for Grand Jury Prize—prognostications that the film would later make good on. The film is set in a Louisiana bayou community where a ferocious six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her temperamental father, Wink (Dwight Henry), prepare for an impending storm that has triggered a community exodus. With a folkloric tenor that dominates the narrative, Hushpuppy guides viewers on a heroic expedition that finds her stopping at nothing to mend her father’s frail heart, save her community, and instill strength in everyone—and everything—that she comes across.
The script for Beasts of the Southern Wild, co-written by Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin, first received support from Sundance Institute at the 2009 January Screenwriters Lab. This initial connection spawned a three-year journey during the development of the film that saw Zeitlin return later that year for the June Directors Lab, and producers Dan Janvey and Josh Penn participate in the Creative Producing Lab later that summer. Click here to see the complete timeline of Beasts’ Sundance journey. The Beasts team will be tweeting live from @sundancefest the day of the Oscars (Sunday, Feb. 24).
- Beasts of the Southern Wild is nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
- Dwight Henry and Quvenzhané Wallis were both non-actors when cast for their roles.
- Henry was working at a local bakery at the time of the casting, and Wallis was 5 years old during production.
- Zeitlin has described the particular set needs required for the film’s production: “I needed a place where I could be loud and build crazy, rippity, unsafe shit, and not go to jail.”