Today: February 21, 2024

Beasts Of The Southern Wild

By – Edward Boff – Beasts Of The Southern Wild has been one of this year’s stand out releases.

By – Edward Boff

Beasts Of
The Southern Wild has been one of this year’s stand out releases.
A bold, feature length directorial
debut for Benh Zeitlin, carried by an astonishingly accomplished central
performance from six-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, the film has garnered accolades
across the globe. Edward Boff
talked with the director and star ahead of the film’s UK release …

Where did
the original concept for Beasts Of The Southern Wild come from?

Benh: I started working on this film about holdouts
and survivors in Louisiana, in towns that are right on the edge of the water,
where the land is falling off. I
started with this place called the Bathtub and the idea of it being on the
wrong side of the Levees and the story kind of found its way through a play
called Juicy And Delicious, which
was written by a friend of mine [Lucy Alibar] … we collaborated on
turning it into a screenplay.

How much of the play is in
the finished film?

Benh: A lot of it. The real core idea. That it’s from a kid’s perspective,
as their parent gets sick, or the end of the world is about to happen. That sickness spilling into nature is a
core idea in the play [and] that’s still at the heart of the movie.

How did the casting of the
central role go?

Benh: A long process. We looked at about 4,000 kids in the course of nine
Quvenzhané: The first audition … came from my Mom’s friend
calling her saying they were holding auditions at the library for
six-to-nine-year-olds. I was
five and so my Mom was like “oh, she can’t go she’s too young” …
When they hung up, she turned to me and said, “Do you want to go?” I was like “Yeah, let’s go and
give it a try”, and after they called back … That’s how it went from
there. Call back, after call back!

Filming on location in an
area mostly submerged must have had some interesting technical challenges?

Benh: Yeah; we didn’t have that much technology. No tanks or anything. It
was all very rudimentary. … A lot
of the time, if you couldn’t get the boat to go in the right direction, they’d
just drop these big spears into the water with ropes and pulleys. Have boats pull it one way, these guys
muscle it the other way! So you
had all this sort of homespun technology to combat the elements, which
certainly made it more of an adventure.

So, how smooth was the
overall shooting of the film?

Benh: It wasn’t smooth! It was
very chaotic. Very difficult
conditions. Our schedule was
constantly having to be revised, because the water would get too low in one
region of the state and we’d have to race up there and film before we couldn’t
launch our boats. There were so
many chaotic factors that you’d have to improvise on … It wasn’t smooth, but we
never thought it would be.

One of the most notable
images in the film is that of the Aurochs. Where did that imagery come from?

Benh: It came from the play.
One of the original things in the play was that, as the father got
sicker, these Horsemen of the Apocalypse came closer and closer. The specific image of the Aurochs was
… a hybrid between the cave
paintings, where the original image came from, like Lascaux in France, and the
way Hush Puppy would interpret that. The way she would create that (image),
like with the animals in her own yard.

How tough was it to film
those sequences?

Benh: Very difficult. It was
training live animals – they don’t speak English! You’re having to wrangle wild
animals into hitting marks, turn around and sit down when you want them
to. It was as hard as you’d
imagine it would be.

what was it like having the lead in a film like this?

Quvenzhané : Fun and kind of different to have that at
my age.

Did you
feel any pressure knowing you were the main viewpoint character for the story?

Quvenzhané: Not really. You just know you had to stay
in that focus and mindset.

The film
does have the shadow of recent events such as the recession and Hurricane
Katrina hanging over it. Was there much of a political intent with the story?

Benh: No. Certainly there were some things that we wanted to say about
the area, but we really wanted to show the people who stayed, came back, began
to rebuild as heroes. I don’t know
if that’s a political message. It’s more a human thing. We felt that these people were being
misrepresented in the news and in politics and we just wanted to tell a story
to celebrate [them] holding on to their land, their culture, their
history. It was never about
telling people to vote a certain way, or solve problems a certain way. It was all about celebrating these
unique places and respecting and knowing that they should survive.

The film
has been getting extraordinary reviews.
Have you been surprised with the critical reaction?

Benh: Yeah. I guess I’m not surprised at how
many liked it – more how many have gotten to see it. This sort of a film, made without a star, without a studio,
without a genre; we were so far outside the industry, that to be celebrated
inside the industry was surprising.
But then I thought it would be a film that would be … universal and
speak to everyone.

So where
are you going from here? What are
your plans for the future?

Benh: I’m currently planning on going back
home and start making a film in the same way as this one. I really like the system we had working
on this film and I want to go on working with the same people, working the same
way. We want to tell a big epic
story in the same homespun way, with the same people involved.

So another
team-up between you two on the cards?

Benh: Hope so!

Benh Zeitlin,
Quvenzhané Wallis, thank you very much!
Beasts Of
The Southern Wild will be released nationwide on 19th October.

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