New Details on ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ Director Benh Zeitlin’s Next Film

As one of our favorite films of 2012 Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild stormed into theaters last summer and ripped our heart to pieces. Told through a poetic mixture of sight and sound, with magical realism and visceral emotion that flew off the screen like sparks flickering into the night, his film, adapted from Lucy Alibar’s play, earned the first time director an Academy Award nomination and a wealth of anxious anticipation for just what he would create next. And although there’s been little word from Zeitlin about his upcoming feature in recent months, for The New York Times’ wonderful piece on 20 Directors to Watch, he shared that his new film:

…is about a young girl who gets kidnapped onto a hidden ecosystem where a tribal war is raging over a form of pollen that breaks the relationship between aging and time. It follows a friendship-love story-adventure of her and a joyous, reckless, pleasure-mongering young boy as they swirl in and out of youth and as the ecosystem around them spirals toward destruction. 
And although this all sounds promising, it could be a while before we see the film come to fruition, as he went on to add that, "We’re working on it all day every day, but as all psychotic adventures go, you know where your destination is but not how long it’s going to take to get there."
When we spoke to Zeitlin last January he spoke about his style of filmmaking and the nature having his hands in all parts of the creative process, he told us:
I really love collaboration more than anything, and I love other people’s creativity and the way that shapes and changes things. I never want to make a film that’s just what I imagine and then execute it; I want a process to change what it is I imagined and become something else through the creativity of all these other people. But I am a complete obsessive. I don’t like there to be any separation between my life and my art. Once it starts, I have to work on it all the time, every second until it’s finished, and so maybe I’ve enabled myself to be a part of everything from beginning to end.

‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ Returning to Theaters For Oscar Completists

Oscar season is upon us, and with Oscar seasons comes the inevitable mad dash of Oscar completists who have to see every Best Picture nominee before the big night, where a CGI teddy bear will make some rude jokes about Anne Hathaway to an audience of people in eveningwear that cost more than your apartment. Beasts of the Southern Wild, a critical and festival darling, netted four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director for Benh Zeitlin and Best Actress for breakout star Quvenzhané Wallis, who at six years old has become the youngest actress ever to receive such a nomination.

But, even with all the critical praise and even President Obama calling it "spectacular," for some viewers, it may have gotten lost in the shuffle. The film is available at a Redbox near you, but if you like the air-conditioned box and expensive popcorn experience, the film will have an encore run in cinemas for Best Picture marathoners. Starting today, Beasts of the Southern Wild returns to the big screen to the following cinemas in the following U.S. cities (via Fox Searchlight’s blog): 

Midtown Art Cinema, Atlanta, GA
Medlock Crossing, Duluth, GA
Charles Towne Sq., North Charleston, SC
Wesgate Mall Cinema 8, Spartanburg, SC
Downtown West Cinema 8, Knoxville, TN
Kendall Sq., Cambridge, MA
Embassy 6, Waltham, MA
Regal Hooksett, Hookset, MA
Charles 5 Theater, Baltimore, MA
Cinemark Movies 10, North Canton, MA
Richmond Town Sq., Richmond Heights, OH
Georgeville Sq., Columbis, OH
Regent Sq., Edgewood, PA
Arlington Cinema & Draft, Arlington, VA
E-Street Cinema, Washginton, DC
AFI Silver Springs, Silver Springs, MD
Main Art, Royal Oak, MI
Movies 16, Warren, MI
Celebration Woodland Mall, Grand Rapids, MI
Gainesville Stadium 14, Gainesville, FL
Island Cinema 7, St. Simons Island, GA
Parkway Cinema, Sarasota, FL
Regency Stadium 11, Panama City, FL
The Last Picture Show, Tamarac, FL
Lincoln Plaza 6, New York, NY
Sunshine Cinemas 5, New York, NY
AMC Jersery Gardens, Elizabeth, NJ
Clairidge 6, Montclair, NJ
Garden CInema 4, Norwalk, CT
Jacob Burns Film Center, Pleasantville, NJ
McKinley 6 Theatres, Blasdell, NY
Ritz, Philadelphia, PA
Vinegar Hill, Charlottesville, VA
Commonwealth 20, Richmond, VA
Century Centre Cinema, Chicago, IL
Lincolnshire 21, Lincolnshire, IL
Cantera Stadium 17, Warrenville, IL
Magnolia Cinema 5, Dallas, TX
River Oaks 3, Houston, TX
Fleur Cafe, Des Moines, IA
Mary Riepma Ross Arts Center, Lincoln, NE
Edina 4, Edina, MN
Westwood Cinemas, Omaha, DE
Capital Theater, Aberdeen, SD
Hollywood Stadium 27, Nashville, TN
Moxie Cinema, Springfield, MO
Tivoli, St. Louis, MO
Landmark, La Jolla, CA
Hillcrest 5, San Diego, CA
Los Feliz 3, Los Angeles, CA
The Landmark 12, Los Angeles, CA
Rancho Niguel, Laguna Niguel, CA
Westlake Village Twin Art Center, Westlake Village, CA
Mayan, Denver, CO
Lyric Twin Cinema Cafe, Ft. Collins, CO
West Village Stadium, Lakewood, CO
Village Square Cinema 18, Las Vegas, NV
Rialto’s 3 Elmwood, Berekely, CA
Rialto’s 9, Sebastopol, CA
Aquarius Twin Art Cinema, Palo Alto, CA
Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA
Stonestown Twin Art Cinema, San Francisco, CA
Bluelight 5 Cinemas, Cupertino, CA
Tower Art 3 Cinema, Sacramento, CA
Salem Art 3 Cinema, Salem, OR
Sundance’s Seattle 10 Cinema, Seattle, WA
Meridian 16, Seattle, WA
For a refresher, you can watch the trailer below, or read our conversation with director Benh Zeitlin

The Best of BlackBook’s 2012 Film Coverage

2012 was an interesting year for cinema—whether it be Hollywood franchise blockbusters, independent stage-play-turned-comedies , or haunting and heartbreaking foreign dramas. In the first half of the year, we saw young filmmakers such as a Brit Marling, Benh Zeitlin, and Leslye Headland debut their innovative and fresh take on modern stories, with films that established them as unique new voices of independent American cinema. Hollywood staples David O. Russell, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, and Whit Stillman once again pleased audiences and won critical praise for their idiosyncratic features. And then there were the beautifully guttural foreign films from Michael Haneke, Miguel Gomes, and Leos Carax that constantly reinvent, not only what film can be, but the experiential nature of cinema as well. 

So as the year draws to a close and we begin to anticipate next year’s film slate, here’s the best in BlackBook’s film coverage of the past twelve months—highlighting our favorite films of 2012 that will linger on in history and the one’s to breakout next year’s biggest stars.

Holy Motors
Silver Linings Playbook

Damsels in Distress

Django Unchained

Moonrise Kingdom
The Deep Blue Sea
The Queen of Versailles
Beasts of the Southern Wild

Sound of My Voice
Wuthering Heights

The Loneliest Planet
Sleepwalk with Me

Beware of Mr. Baker
Anna Karenina
The Imposter

The Snowtown Murders
The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Watch ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ Composers Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin Perform at LACMA

Earlier this month, we interviewed Beasts of the Southern Wild composer Dan Romer on he and director Benh Zeitlin’s breathtaking soundtrack for the film. Speaking to the magical nature of the film, and way the score existed inside the lives of its characters, as if the notes were simply the heartbeak of the world around them, Romer said:

"The big discovery we made along the way was that the entire score would be from the point of view of Hushpuppy. We figured that out somewhere during writing and it just changed everything for us. Whenever we tried to score a scene from the audience’s perspective, it kind of fell flat. But when we thought, “How does Hushpuppy feel about this scene?” and scored it that way, it scored much better."

And it worked—the results a palpable mix of wonder and pain. A few weeks back, Zeitlin and Romer performed "Once There Was a Hushpuppy", the musical theme of the film, with a full orchestra at LACMA in Los Angeles. And for someone who has listened to this song ad nauseum for months now, watching this today was the first time I had witnessed the song being performed; it’s absolutely fantastic to see how everything comes together and feels so alive in this small space apart from the film. See for yourself below and also check out a short featurette on the score now available on iTunes Trailers.

Musically Speaking: Talking With ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ Composer Dan Romer

A truly memorable film soundtrack not only opens up the world onscreen, but allows you to enter it—providing a sensory gateway that isn’t so much manipulative as it is emotionally captivating. And when a soundtrack is great, you can listen to it months or years after seeing a film and find yourself thrown back in your cinema seat, consumed by the sights and sounds happening before you—and with Benh Zeitlin and Dan Romer’s stunning soundtrack for Beasts of the Southern Wild (written and directed by Zeitlin), you get the pleasure of that experience precisely. Turn up the volume and drown out the world with “Once There Was a Hushpuppy” and suddenly your tear ducts begin to tingle as you find yourself back in the world of the Bathtub, filled with the strength of the little girl who astounded us all.

One of the best films of 2012 by far, Beasts of the Southern Wild comes out on DVD tomorrow; but in addition to its release, the wonderfully powerful soundtrack to the film will also be released on vinyl for the first time through a new vinyl-only, music-for-film label, Thirty3 and a 3rd. Full of vim and vigor, the soundtrack is a mix of vibrant strings, classic Jazz Age piano, and hint of that awe-inspiring magical realism that the film conjures up. Last week, fresh off the excitement of their Gotham Award wins, we caught up with composer Dan Romer to chat about working with Benh, seeing the world through Hushpuppy’s eyes, and being inspired by Rihanna.

How did you and Benh begin working together?
Well, we scored Glory at Sea together when we were about 22. But about a year before that, we had actually worked together when I had engineered the film score for his movie Egg.

What was your collaboration process like? I imagine scoring a film is a pretty personal thing, especially when the person you’re working with is the director and writer who had the original vision for the film.
With Benh, the way we work together is we kind of just sit down and get ideas for melodies. I have a ton of musical training so my area that I know better is how all the theory stuff works and how the instruments go together and how arrangements work and his skill is more story-related. And then all the melodies and chords come from the both of us.

Had you read the script before it was shot? At what point did you start thinking about the music?
I read the script before it was shot. It was a drastically different story than the movie is. We kind of got together and then I saw the cut without the music and it was just making me cry hysterically at some points. We had actually developed a lot of our musical language together already on the short film Glory; it’s a very similar musically. It’s pretty much all string-based, there were no folk instruments on Glory but we got the language together with that. Musically, Beasts is kind of a continuation on that thought we had started on Glory.

It feels like this large symphony of sounds but it’s also very intimate. What were you going for in terms of the feeling of the sound?
This is both—for me and Benh—our first feature in every sense. This is his first writing directing/scoring of a feature and this is my first scoring a feature, so we were just kind of going on instinct. Not a ton of it was planned out. We didn’t say: Okay, we’re going to go for this kind of sound. We had the idea that we were going to have a combination of the sounds we’d already worked on with Glory and combining both aspects. But the big discovery we made along the way was that the entire score would be from the point of view of Hushpuppy. We figured that out somewhere during writing and it just changed everything for us. Whenever we tried to score a scene from the audience’s perspective, it kind of fell flat. But when we thought, “How does Hushpuppy feel about this scene?” and scored it that way, it scored much better.

Do you have any favorite songs on the album? I know mine are “Once There Was a Hushpuppy” and “I Think I Broke Something.”
I would give you the same answer. What’s interesting: “I Think I Broke Something,” that actual piece is not in the film. It was in the cut at Sundance and Benh and I loved that piece so much that we decided to keep it in the soundtrack. “I Think I’ve Broke Something,” that melody comes in at times during the film. That was definitely my favorite iteration of that theme. So we decided to keep it on the soundtrack. I also really like “The Smallest Piece.”

What were you and Benh both influenced by while scoring this? Were you listening to anything in particular?
We were listening to more pop music than anything else—a lot of Rihanna. We were also listening to a lot of Kate Bush, Tom Waits, Harry Belafonte, and to the ET soundtrack.

Do you have any other composers that you look to in terms of film scoring?
Danny Elfman and Jon Brion have been two of my staples, and then obviously John Wiliams. I’ve watched Lost so many times, Michael Giacchino has just seeped into my pores. Benh and I would start the day sometimes by doing cardio and watching Lost together so a lot of the string stuff in Lost, a lot of the textures would be in my head.

‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ Is the Best Movie About New Orleans—Ever

One reason, perhaps, that there have been so many movies made about New Orleans is that the very geography of the city is the stuff of Shakespearean drama. The constant threat of annihilation, vibrancy in the face of fear, an electrifying inequality, a touch of hubris perhaps—it’s all there. Equally true is that in many cases these seductive narratives have all but obliterated the people who make New Orleans: New Orleanians.

This is the backdrop against which Beasts of the Southern Wild, the debut feature from director Benh Zeitlin and one of the most powerful movies ever made about the city, emerges. Zeitlin, a 29-year old filmmaker who moved there from Queens in 2004, is a member of Court 13, a community–based film collective headquartered near the French Quarter that has coalesced around what Zeitlin calls, “a code of honor.” It’s like an American Dogme 95. “The most fundamental idea behind our process,” Zeitlin explains, “is that we try to make the creation of the film mirror the reality of the actual story.”

That’s a tall order considering the magical realism of Beasts of the Southern Wild. The film unfolds in a fringe community of misfits called The Bathtub. Residents of The Bathtub live beyond the levee, effectively beyond the reach of either the laws of man or God and beyond the protection afforded the levee. It’s an enclave of beaten-up trailers, jerry-rigged boats, crab feasts, outcasts, and glorious bacchanals. There’s no money in The Bathtub, but as Zeitlin says, an “absence of money doesn’t mean poverty.” His film, executed on a shoestring budget, is proof.

The beating heart of The Bathtub and Beasts is a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) whose angelic face is fierce and feral and wise. Hushpuppy’s father, an alcoholic Thoreauvian saint named Wink (Dwight Henry), is dying, and as a storm approaches, ex- poses himself as a flawed, loving, noble, and failing man. There are no easy answers in the bayou—just beauty, ugliness, joy, and unease.

Henry and Wallis are just two of the many non-actors who populate the film and give it the feel of a Les Blank documentary. Scenes don’t have ends or beginnings; they seem to unfurl and the camera just happens to catch it. This is the fruit of Court 13’s process: the B- roll alone deserves an Oscar. But behind this nonchalance lies tremendous work. “We auditioned 4,000 girls before we found Quevenzhané,” says Zeitlin. As for Henry, a baker-by-trade whose Buttermilk Drop Bakery and Café is a Treme institution, he had to be convinced to act. “I don’t do no acting,” Henry says in his deep Louisiana drawl. “I’ve got my bakery. That’s my heart.” Happily, with the financial sup- port of the Sundance Institute, Zeitlin finally lured Henry from his flour and buttermilk.

The result is magical, but there are so many ellipses—throwaway shots of such arresting beauty, and loose ends of such force—a simple recitation of facts would ill-serve the viewer. Furthermore, true to the Court 13 credo, it’s not the conclusion of events but the unfolding of them that ennobles the movie. And the unfolding continues. Since it debuted at Sun- dance this year, the film has been widely acclaimed, and in May was shown at Cannes. But Henry doesn’t see movie stardom in his future. His words echo the spirit of Beasts and of Court 13 itself. “Material things,” he says, “don’t mean much to me.” It’s the animal spirit that counts.