2012. USA. Dir: Benh Zeitlin. With Quvenzhane? Wallis. 93 min.
Fierce, uninhibited six-year-old Hushpuppy grows up in a ramshackle bayou habitat, learning survival skills from her mercurial father in anticipation of an incoming flood. A commune of proud Wes alumni shaped this emotionally delicate and spiritually powerful indie jewel.
Last month, while you were chillaxing in your break cocoon, the New York Times devoted an article to lesser-talked-about Wesleyan filmmaker and Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer ’97, whose latest release, Gangster Squad, stars Sean Penn in the story “of the struggle between good and evil on the streets of Los Angeles, in a post-World War II era that was known for shady compromise between the two.”
Unlike his Cardinal peers, Fleischer wasn’t a film major at Wesleyan. He got involved in the industry by way of coding Web sites during the dot-com boom, which led him to Los Angeles, which led him to Mike White ’92 (who co-produced and wrote Dawson’s Creek and Freaks & Geeks, but whom you might more readily recognize from his classic role in School of Rock, which he also wrote). Then, Fleischer moved up the ranks. About halfway through the Times article comes a classic, tried-and-true glimpse into the innerworkings of what has come to be termed the “WesleyanMafia” in Hollywood, which is apparently the real engine behind Fleischer’s early career:
Before long he was building sites for big companies like Microsoft.
That led to a Web-related job in Los Angeles, where he met Mike White [’92], a filmmaker and television producer who had also attended Wesleyan and who got Mr. Fleischer hired as a production assistant on the TV series “Dawson’s Creek.”
It was a short step to a job as assistant to the director Miguel Arteta [’89], another member of Wesleyan’s movie mafia, on the film “Chuck & Buck,” starring and written by Mr. White.
Beasts of the Southern Wild, the masterpiece by Benh Zeitlin ’04, just scored four Academy Award nominations this morning, including Best Picture, Best Director (Zeitlin), Best Adapted Screenplay (Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar), and Best Actress (Quevenzhané Wallis).
Wallis, just five years old during filming and now age nine, is the youngest person ever to receive an Oscar nod for Best Actress; the old “record” was held by Keisha Castle-Hughes, who was nominated for Whale Rider in 2004 at the age of thirteen. Following her Beasts success, Wallis has been cast in the film Twelve Years A Slave, which also stars Hollywood heavyweights Brad Pitt and Paul Giamatti.
In addition to his Oscar nods, director and writer Zeitlin has won a slew of prestigious film prizes at several film festivals, including Sundance and Cannes. The film has received universal acclaim, even catching the eyes of President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, who proclaimed Beasts was one of the best films of the year. Zeitlin and one of the film’s producers, Dan Janvey ’06, also made the trek to Wesleyan this past semester to discuss the film, which was screened during the Wesleyan Film Series.
All I can say is, cue the brag-heavy Facebook statuses and tweets:
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.
I don’t like to name drop, but the first person to tell me about this was the President of the United States. I was interviewing the president for an interview that’s going to be in O magazine . . . and as I sat down putting on my mic, he said ‘have you seen this movie, Beasts of the Southern Wild?’ I hadn’t even heard the phrase so I didn’t even know what he was talking about. And since then at least a dozen different people said to me, ‘have you seen this movie Beasts of the Southern Wild, you have got to see this film.’
This isn’t a film series showing post, but by goodness, in a year or so it could be. The Wesleyan Mafia left itsmark on the film world again this past weekend in the form of Beasts of the Southern Wild, a SFFS/KRF grant-winning movie by up-and-coming filmmaker and Wesleyan Film Studies alumnus Benh Zeitlin ’04. The film, described as “a dreamy exploration of survival on the flooded Mississippi Delta,” not only took the grand jury prize in the U.S. dramatic competition at Sundance this weekend (Zeitlin accepted the award while holding up the film’s star, eight-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis). It also signed with Fox Searchlight for $2 million. GO, WESLEYAN MAFIA, GO, eh? (Speaking of which, the film’s three producers includes Wes alum Michael Gottwald ’06, who was assistant director for Zeitlin’s thesis film, Egg, and completed his own feature Frame of Reference in 2006.)
I haven’t seen the film, of course (I certainly hope to soon, preferably in the mighty Goldsmith itself), but from what I’ve read, it’s a rather surreal exploration of a girl named Hushpuppy living with her father “at the edge of the world”—the impoverished, flooded Louisiana delta.