We had landed in Salt Lake City on the opening weekend of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. We had tickets to a mere 2 films (out of the 16 or so we had planned to see). And the only film it looked like we might make into that day was this bizarrely named film with absolutely no one you have ever heard of attached to the project – Beasts of the Southern Wild.
And here lies its beauty. This is a passion project from innocent talent devoted to big ideas. (A perfect place for a little wonder to rear its head.)
First-time director Behn Zeitlin leads this unassuming cast in a tale of survival within one of America’s poorest communities, a frequently flooded and evacuated section of Southern Louisiana known as “The Bathtub.” While most coming-of-age films take place in the teen years, this one occurs through a six-year-old (at the time) named “Hushpuppy” (Quvenzhané Wallis), the heart and soul of the story. (In fact, she is so strong – don’t be surprised if you see her walking the red carpet come February.) The more obstacles thrown at Hushpuppy, the more persistence she possesses.
A dance emerges between the would-be-victim(s) and power. A conflict that Zeitlin brilliantly elevates via metaphors of crashing glaciers and stampeding aurochs – neither of which any six-year-old girl would care to face.
But this isn’t just a film about a little girl. It’s about community. Capitalizing on our emotional familiarity with Hurricane Katrina, Zeitlin has artfully crafted a narrative that takes us deep into humanity’s quest to belong. Questions surrounding the nature of home, identity, and power emerge as we see both family and community fight for existence.
A fight fiercely led by a Hushpuppy, who just so happens to live in a Bathtub.