Zeitlin ’04 and Janvey ’06 Discuss Critically Acclaimed “Beasts” in Goldsmith

“This is sort of old man talk right now. I mean, I just turned 30…”

While the rest of my friends live-texted me as they sat in on “Diversity University: In Theory and In Practice” this past Monday night, I had the pleasure of strolling over to the CFS to listen to Benh Zeitlin ’04 and Dan Janvey ’06 discuss their critically acclaimed film Beasts of the Southern Wild.

For those of you who have been living in a cultural bubble for the past year, Wesleyan alum Zeitlin co-wrote and then directed Beasts of the Southern Wild, a film about a young girl named Hushpuppy who tries to cope with the environmental struggles of living in the Louisiana bayou and her own emotional turmoil as she deals with her terminally ill father. The film has captured the imagination of film critics and audiences everywhere, and it even caught the eye of Oprah Winfrey and our newly re-elected president Barack Obama. In addition to widespread acclaim from critics, Beasts took home the Caméra d’Or at Cannes, the Grand Jury Prize for Drama at Sundance, and the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at the Los Angeles Film Festival, to name a few of the many accolades. Even more impressive, over 28 other Wesleyan graduates worked on the film, including Janvey, who served as one of Beasts‘ producers.

At the event on Monday, after some slightly awkward (and slightly awesome) banter between Film Studies’ Jeanine Basinger and the two filmmakers about which famous Wesleyan alum had sex in the Davison Art Center, Zeitlin and Janvey held the “world premiere” of the official behind-the-scenes footage from Beasts, followed by a Q&A session with the audience.

Read after the jump to hear about some of the crazy sick nasty stuff that happened on the set of Beasts, as well as what Zeitlin and Janvey had to say about their Wesleyan experiences and beyond. 

Right after presenting the behind-the-scenes footage, Zeitlin and Janvey let the audience in on a couple of secrets about their film. First, Zeitlin calls his production team “Court 13″ after one of the Wesleyan squash courts where he spent most of his time at Wesleyan making films and hanging out (yes, there were actually squash courts way back in the day). Also, during the filming of Beasts, the filmmakers used an abandoned gas station at the edge of the bayou as their film headquarters.

In an interesting turn of events, Zeitlin’s car exploded on set (no explanation was given as to how that happened), and the remains were used to create a parade float seen in the beginning of the film; the truck bed became the boat Hushpuppy and Wink use throughout Beasts.

Now, because I am a committed journalist blogger noob and love making people stare at me weirdly, I recorded the Q&A discussion as two elderly folk next to me looked on (and judged me hardcore). You can kind of hear them in the recording, as well as hear me ruffling through pages, taking notes on the discussion, and shifting my iPhone here and there, but it really was a fascinating conversation.

[Edit by ZachI am removing these recordings on Dan Janvey's request.]

Hermes, you bitch, I’m not going to listen to an hour of shitty recordings from your iPhone. I’m busy.”

Well, if you don’t to listen to the whole thing, below are the questions asked during the presentation and where you can find them on the recordings. Feel free to skip around and listen to what tickles your fancy, impatient reader:

  1. How did you (Zeitlin) come up with the script? (2nd recording, 0:33)
  2. What do the aurochs represent? (2nd recording, 2:27)
  3. How did you keep such a large crew productive and working together? (2nd recording, 5:35)
  4. Tell us about the leads [Quevenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry]. (3rd recording, 0:05)
  5. Why did you choose to shoot on 16mm film versus digital film? (3rd recording, 8:35)
  6. What was the community response to the movie being shot? (3rd recording, 13:00)
  7. What happened to the lead actors after the film? (3rd recording, 18:02)
  8. How did your liberal arts educations direct your filmmaking? (3rd recording, 20:35)
  9. How can you carve your own niche into film? (3rd recording, 25:18)
  10. How were [Dwight Henry's] doughnuts? (3rd recording, 28:22)
  11. Talk about creating the film score. (3rd recording, 29:29)
  12. Did the vision of the film change because you were using non-actors? (3rd recording, 32:36)
  13. What did you envision when you moved to Louisiana? Did anything surprise you? (3rd recording, 34:20)
  14. What are your next film endeavors? (3rd recording, 40:11)