As the Walker Cinema stews in its top-to-bottom renovation, we wait patiently for the moment we can submerge ourselves in the forthcoming red trimmings and the best that analog and digital technologies can provide. That moment will come on June 22 with a very special pre-screening of Sundance darling Beasts of the Southern Wild. (Psssst! Tickets are free while they last!) When that evening arrives, I will be sitting in the audience not only as a member of the Walker Film/Video Department, but also as a Twin Cities film fan eager to see what will probably be a landmark film for 2012.
I’m brazen enough to make such statements only after the recent issue of Film Comment landed on my doorstep yesterday with Quvenzhané Wallis, the young star of Beasts, on the cover and another stunning appraisal from frequent Walker guest Scott Foundas. For those who weren’t following the scent of Beasts left at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, critics flew to their note pads and laptops in praise of this unique film. Manhola Dargis called it the standout of the fest, but went on to proclaim it “among the best films to play the festival in two decades.” In his article in Film Comment, Foundas reiterates the sentiment: “It was easily among the most audacious such debuts in the almost quarter-century since sex, lies, and videotape.”
Those are strong words, especially considering what sex, lies did for the US indie film business, and what it did for putting the Sundance Film Festival on the map. I would argue that American independent film is currently undergoing a quiet revolution of the same magnitude that lies just below the radar with directors like Matthew Porterfield, Aaron Katz, Kelly Reichardt, Ramin Bahrani, and Sean Durkin. Perhaps Benh Zeitlin, and his new film that seems to be percolating for a summer explosion, will push this group, only loosely associated by budget and vision, into the mainstream discussion of important works that are made to do something much more profound than tally box office totals.
Zeitlin’s trials, inspirations, motivations, and philosophies—as outlined in the Film Comment interview and article—are as meritorious as you are going to find in any filmmaker. And part of Zeitlin’s vigor, no doubt translated in his film, can be atributed to his dedication to New Orleans and the area he now calls home. In speaking of New Orleans, he says: “This town is full of film at this point, but none of it is organic to the city. New Orleans pretty much expresses itself through music and parade culture, and I think it would be amazing if people were expressing themselves [that way] with the camera. No one would have ever seen anything like what would come out of this place if there was a real film culture.”
Foundas avoids delving into plot details and narrative surprises in his piece, but, be forewarned, the film’s trailer answers some of the questions about Beasts of the Southern Wild‘s magical plot, and arguably gives some of them away. Whether its a spoiler or not, I’m unconcerned and counting on the theatrical experience to reveal the alluded mythical power of this exciting new film.