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Feature Film: Beasting It

The Feature Film Program support of Beasts of the Southern Wild offers a prime example of the key moments that we can bring targeted resources, momentum, and advocacy to the realization of a film and filmmaker’s vision. Below is a brief look at the timeline of Beasts’ Sundance journey:

  • January 2009: Benh Zeitlin (co-writer/director) and Lucy Alibar (co-writer) participate in the January Screenwriters Lab with advisors including Scott Frank, Michael Goldenberg, and Dana Stevens.
  • April 2009: Benh and Lucy receive a $2,500 Annenberg Film Fellowship development grant to support continued work on the script.
  • June 2009: Benh returns to the June Directors Lab to workshop scenes from the script with advisors including Ed Harris, Catherine Hardwicke, Joan Tewkesbury, and Caleb Deschanel. Lucy joins him for the June Screenwriters Lab, with new advisors including Christopher McQuarrie and Walter Mosley.
  • July 2009: Benh and Lucy receive a $5,000 Annenberg Film Fellowship momentum grant to support continued script development and pre-production activities.
  • July/August 2009: Beasts producers Dan Janvey and Josh Penn participate in the Creative Producing Lab as the Mark Silverman Honorees, the first component of a year-long fellowship which also includes industry mentorship and a momentum grant of $10,000. Advisors include Mary Jane Skalski, Jay Van Hoy, Lynette Howell, and Paul Mezey. With Sundance’s strong recommendation, Paul subsequently comes on to the film as an Executive Producer to oversee pre-production plans and production.
    • At the same time, Benh participates in the Film Music Lab, collaborating with one of the composer fellows and experimenting with ideas he already has about the soundscape for the film.
    • At the end of both Labs, all three take part in the Creative Producing Summit, which offers an up-to-the-moment snapshot of the indie marketplace and access to advice from a wide range of industry leaders.
  • January 2010: Producers Dan and Josh attend the Sundance Film Festival as part of their Creative Producing Fellowship. At the Festival, Benh is announced as the American winner of the 2010 Sundance/NHK International Filmmaker Award, which comes with a $10,000 cash prize as well as the pre-buy of Japanese broadcast rights, valued at $85,000. All three participate in targeted creative and industry meetings, curated screenings, and panels as part of their Festival experience.
  • March 2010: Beasts enters production. Through our in-kind relationships with Arri (camera equipment) and Kodak (film)  the film receives discounted/donated equipment and services.
  • Fall 2010 – Fall 2011: Through our Works-in-Progress Screening Initiative, program staff and select creative advisors view multiple cuts at crucial moments in the film’s evolution, offering feedback in individual conversations with Benh and the filmmaking team. Additional editor and Lab advisor Affonso Gonçalves is recommended and joins the editing team.
    • In post-production, relationships cultivated with Alpha Cine (lab work) and Skywalker Sound (sound mix) assist the production with more discounted lab and sound services. 
    • Feature Film Program staff advise Beasts producers on festival strategy and distribution opportunities.
  • January 2012: Beasts of the Southern Wild premieres in U.S. Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival and wins the prestigious Grand Jury Prize.
    • Dan and Josh are announced as the inaugural recipients of the Sundance Institute Indian Paintbrush Producer’s Award, which comes with a $10,000 cash grant.
    • Fox Searchlight acquires the film for distribution, with a planned release in June 2012.
  • June 2012: Benh Zeitlin is honored with the first Vanguard Award, presented by Tiffany & Co., at the ‘Celebrate Sundance Institute’ Los Angeles benefit. The award celebrates creative independence and visionary leadership, and comes with a cash award of $10,000. The Vanguard Award was founded in 2011 to mark the 30th anniversary of the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program.
    • Sundance sets up screenings in New York (in partnership with MoMA) and Los Angeles (in partnership with SOHO House) to build the audience for the US  release. 
    • The Feature Film Program works with the Sundance marketing team to promote the film and Sundance’s connection to the film through social media marketing and other online strategies.
  • September 2012: Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar win the Sundance Feature Film Humanitas Prize, announced at the awards luncheon.

In addition to these specific instances of support, the Feature Film Program served as an ongoing creative and strategic resource for the filmmakers throughout the life of the project, from giving feedback on multiple drafts throughout the development process all the way to offering advice on the distribution partner.

We couldn’t be prouder of the innovative, courageous, and inspiring film they’ve made, and how they’ve shared their remarkable vision with audiences around the world.