COLUMBIA (WACH) - Beauty can be found anywhere if you're looking, even in an isolated community on the edge of Earth. Some call it the swamp. Some call it the bayou. A little girl named Hushpuppy called it home.
The film concentrates on a group of Louisiana people living on the wrong side of the levee, in a low land area on the Gulf of Mexico known as "The Bathtub". Cut off from supplies and support, the residents enjoy a life free of responsibility and sobriety. Every day is a holiday as they parade to the beach and "celebrate" with a feast of fresh seafood and bottled beer. Like an exiled tribe, the inhabitants create their own world complete with a school and a close knit feeling of social community. Each day seems to be a balance as they carelessly await the effects of global warming which will eventually cover their homes with water, but only if a storm doesn't drown them first. The nature of life is symbolized by prehistoric beasts called Aurochs, a boar-like animal thawing from Arctic ice and heading to the Bathtub to claim thier former land.
The leading actress is tiny Quvenzhane Wallis, who plays the tough as nails Hushpuppy living with her single father, Wink. Apparently abandoned by her mother, Hushpuppy must learn big lessons the hard way, and takes life on with a fierce bravery that no five year old should ever need to possess. Her inebriated father is aware of his rapidly failing health just as residents of the Bathtub are aware of the impending floodwaters. Knowing that life on the bayou is fragile, the adults instinctively teach the younger children to survive independantly and Wink is hard on Hushpuppy because he knows she'll be on her own soon enough. Still, he lovingly protects her childhood as much as a broken and dying man can.
Director Benh Zeitlin was inspired by the small fishing communities on the Gulf coast that are eroding from rising sea levels and yearly hurricanes. Isle de Jean Charles, outside of Terrebonne Parrish is one of those tiny islands left to it's own devices. The filmmaker chose to shoot in 16mm and brought only a few professionals, taking the unorthodox step of instead rounding out not only his crew with local workers, but his cast as well. Native Loiusianaian Dwight Henry who plays Wink, owned a donut shop across the street from the production team and after a few months getting to know the crew he decided to audition one day while business was slow. His read was so raw and real, having been in neck high water during Katrina. Zeitlin knew no one else could bring that authenticity to Wink, and he had to actively lobby to convince Henry to neglect his donut business long enough play his lead charactor. His moving portrayal is perfectly complemented by the fierce performance of the young ingenue Wallis. Zeitlin's confidence in his project and actors was so deeply felt that he never looked at the daileys (raw footage of the days work) until shooting was complete. The result is an organic and moving glimpse of life way outside of the fishbowl.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is touching and tender with deep meaning. The wee Hushpuppy is courageously learning the interconnectedness of nature, yet ends up showing us what life looks like when simplified to basic survival and the search for love.