Called by the New York Times “Among the best film to play at Cannes in the last two decades” the remarkable magical realism film, set in the Katrina Hurricane ravaged Louisiana bayou community, Beasts of the Southern Wild is truly unlike no other film you’ve ever seen. The film won the Grand Jury Prize and the Best Cinematography prize when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and just last May the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film festival.
Co-written and directed by Benh Zeitlin and recently released theatrically by Fox Searchlight, the film resolves around the challenges by the environment and authorities faced by the precious 6-year-old girl called Hush Puppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) with a vivid imagination and fierce survival instinct, and her ailing father Wink played by Dwight Henry—and involving prehistoric creatures known as the Aurochs.
What more amazing is that every actor in the film was a non-professional making their first appearance in a film. Wallis, in fact, got the part of Hush Puppy over 4,000 other girls who the filmmakers auditioned and saw for the role. Henry is actually self made businessman and the owner of the Buttermilk Drop Bakery Café in New Orleans, who, on a lark auditioned and got the role.
We had the opportunity to talk to both Wallis and Henry about their experience making this truly unique film.
EBONY: The both of you have been very busy since January traveling with the film, first at the Sundance Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize and then in May at the Cannes Film Festival. And now you’re currently on a 13-city tour to promote the film. You’re not “interviewed out” are you?
HENRY: No indeed not! Interviewed out as far as burned out? Indeed not! I don’t get burned out. Let’s roll! Let’s talk!
EBONY: Of course I have to ask what was it like being at the Cannes Film Festival where the film won the Camera d’Or for Best First Film?
WALLIS: it was fun because you get to see all the blue beaches because in Houma (i.e.in Louisiana where Wallis lives) the beaches are not so blue like that. So when you go to Cannes it’s supposed to be hot, but it’s really cool at that time there pretty much. So the beaches are very blue and they’re very pretty over there.
HENRY: But the thing that amazed me the most about the experiences at Cannes or Sundance was that we knew that we had made a good film, but we didn’t know that it was going to go through the roof. We’re sitting at Sundance and my biggest fear was that people wouldn’t accept that film because it’s not your traditional type of movie that you would more normally see. And the response that we got at Sundance, where you have 1500 people standing up and chapping, that was fine. It was wonderful. It blew my expectations through the roof!
But then we were found out that we were going to Cannes, they told us how tough the French audience is. Very tough. It’s not like the American audience. So we were there watching the film, but worrying was they were going to walk out on the movie. And it was finished and everyone in the audience stood up and clapped for ten minutes, They wouldn’t sit down, screaming and hollering. That was an truly amazing feeling by itself right there!
EBONY: This being that first time you’ve appeared in a movie, or even acted, what would you say was the biggest misconception you had about movie making?
HENRY: Well a lot of things that were going on were new to me. It was new to Quvenzhane. But one thing that I knew, because I watch movies and TV all the time, was that this was going to be a different type of movie. Just like you watch TV and no matter what you’re watching you can say “O.K. I saw something like that somewhere before”, except ours. The only thing I wanted was to make a good film and for it to be accepted by people.
EBONY: So what made you decided to audition for the film in the first place?
WALLIS: It was my mom. I actually forced my mom to take me to the audition, but she didn’t want to take me at first because I was too young, It was for 6 to 9 years old and I was only 5 at the time. But I wanted to make a try for it.
HENRY: I wasn’t even trying to get the part actually. I own that bakery that was right across the street from where they were doing the auditions at an old school that was destroyed after Katrina, but was renovated as studios for artists. So they used to put flyers in my bakery