Westchester, NY Director Wins Award at Sundance Film Festival

Hastings-on-Hudson filmmaker Benh Zeitlin wins Sundance Festival awards for The Beasts of the Southern Wild movie

It’s a good time to be a local filmmaker. Last week, three Westchester natives woke up to news about their Oscar nominations: Bedford residents Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs) and Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) both received nods for Best Actress in a Leading Role for their respective films, while Northern Westchester resident Joe Berlinger nabbed a Best Documentary Feature nomination for Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. And riding on the heels of this news, one Westchester native is cleaning up at Sundance.

The Sundance Grand Jury Prize went to The Beasts of the Southern Wild, a movie directed by Hastings-on-Hudson native Benh Zeitlin, who graduated Hastings High School in 2000. The film also won the award for Excellence in Cinematography.

It’s hard for me to put a finger on The Beasts of the Southern Wild. It’s definitely about a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy who lives in Louisiana with her father, Wink. The rest of the explaining is better left to New York magazine’s Vulture: “Wink teaches Hushpuppy how to live off the gulf, while a matronly medicine woman tells her tales of the world beyond the levees, which includes Ice Age boars that awaken from hibernation and wreak destruction through lands of Hushpuppy’s imagination. When a storm floods their lands, the survivors take their village afloat, and Hushpuppy embarks on a bittersweet journey to become ‘king’ of the Tub.”

From there, reviews go on to talk about the film’s magical realism and unorthodox plotting. “Beasts Of The Southern Wild isn’t about the poor, or African-American life, or Katrina, or anything that specific. The movie takes place in an abstracted world, which resembles our own, only darker and wilder, and for the most part, co-writer/director Benh Zeitlin merely explores that world and shows how it hardens his heroine,” writes The A.V. Club, which gave the film an A-minus. 

This isn’t Zeitlin’s first film set in a floody version of Louisiana. Previously, he made a short titled “Glory at Sea,” which Filmmaker Magazine says was about “a ragtag group of heartbroken refugees, ever searching for their lost loved ones in a post-Katrina, postapocalyptic New Orleans of the future.” It debuted at SXSW in 2008 and brought home the Wholphin Award.

Awards are great and all, but will you ever be able to see Beasts of the Southern Wild? Fortunately, yes! Fox Searchlight has acquired the film, and it hopes for a 2012 release.

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Marisa LaScala

Marisa LaScala
Elmsford, NY

Associate Editor Marisa LaScala joined Westchester magazine in 2003, and ever since she's blown every paycheck at the Greenburgh Multiplex. She also staunchly defends Richard Kelly, doesn't mind spoiling the endings of trashy movies you're curious about but don't want to pay to see, wishes the Hold Steady would come back and rock out Westchester, misses Arrested Development more than anyone can imagine, and still watches cartoons and Saturday Night Live. You can find more of her cultural criticism at www.popmatters.com, where she is a staff writer.



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