It's the little movie that could, and now it's nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Benh Zeitlin), Best Adapted Screenplay (Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin) and Best Actress (Quvenzhané Wallis). In this post, director Benh Zeitlin shares what filming Beasts of the Southern Wild meant to him.
I remember after a bunch of Court 13 members did a talk at Cannes, John Cooper from Sundance had to sum up the overriding lesson of our experience. He said "Friendship works," which I thought was a perfect way to put it.
Our entire team, from the actors to the caterers, have always been made up of friends and family. I've always felt that the qualities you look for in a friend are the same qualities you look for in a crew member or an actor -- honesty, bravery, wisdom, sweetness, sense of humor. Sometimes you don't know these people yet, and you have to search.
Whenever we bring someone into our film, whatever their job is, we're inviting them to our table. This is not a kingly roundtable. It's a loud, laughing, eat-with-your-hands kind of table. And everyone that sits at it has to be a friend, because in the end, the movie is going to take on the personality of that table. But, more importantly, your life is going to get lived at that table, so it better be a good one.
We tried to build that culture into every one of our short films. When we went south for 'Beasts,' traveling all the way down the bayou (home of the best dinner tables on earth) we really found a soulmate in the communities at the end of the road. Their spirit elevated the meaning of community for me and brought it from being a mantra about grassroots art to being a life philosophy around which to build the epic of Hushpuppy and the Bathtub.
The people of Isle de Jean Charles, Pointe Aux Chenes, and Montegut have been knocked down and picked themselves back up so many times that they truly know what's important. There's a real knowledge that everything you've got -- every commodity, every dollar, even the ground beneath your feet -- can just go away. And what's going to be left is nature (plants, animals, land, water... ) and what's invisible -- friendships, families, ancestors, communities, culture.
I don't know if I could have told you this when we started shooting, but I learned through making the film that Hushpuppy's journey is a process of internalizing all those things, finding her place amongst them, and finding a wisdom and a peace that makes her as fearless and resilient as those last towns standing strong on the edge of America. It's amazing, these days, whenever I lose my way, I feel like I've got Hushpuppy on my shoulder telling me how to think right, and how to do the right thing. I hope she can be that angel for a lot more people as well.
Thanks for inviting us to your table, and for all those reading this, welcome to ours!