The little movie that could...
Benh Zeitlin (Best Directing nominee) didn't mean to stay in Lousiana. After he made his 2008 25-minute short, Glory at Sea, his parents kept expecting him back in New York for the next holiday, and the next. He didn't make the next one either. Finally, he had to admit that he was a New Orleans resident with an East Coast accent.
Zeitlin had visited New Olreans with his parents as a young boy; and even then he was captured by the dark mystery, the generosity, and the constant sense of temporal existence of Louisiana. These are the qualities he has captured in his first feature film, Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Six-year-old Hushpuppy (played by the indominatable Quvenzhané Wallis, the youngest-ever Oscar nominee for Best Actress) lives with her loving, alcoholic, sometimes-negligent father Wink (Dwight Henry, real-life owner of a New Orleans donut shop) in the backwater area of Louisiana known as the Bathtub. As Wink's terminal illness advances, he prepares Hushpuppy to survive not only his departure, but a future in which their community could become as extinct as the ancient aurochs she sees.
Made for a mere (in feature-film terms) $1.5 million dollars with almost all non-professional actors from the local community, Beasts' four Oscar nominations make it the miracle underdog movie of the year. But the greatest miracle can be viewed in the movie itself. Despite such mortality at its heart, Beasts of the Southern Wild paradoxically rises like a phoenix of triumph, transcendence, and celebration.