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Preview: "Beyond Beasts"

Will Coviello talks to Benh Zeitlin about the Beasts of the Southern Wild exhibit at the Contemporary Arts Center


Filmmaker Benh Zeitlin prepares for the opening of a multimedia show featuring Beasts of the Southern Wild and other projects. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • Filmmaker Benh Zeitlin prepares for the opening of a multimedia show featuring Beasts of the Southern Wild and other projects.

The question I always get asked is, 'Where did the idea (for Beasts of the Southern Wild) come from?'" says writer/director Benh Zeitlin. "You come up with a succinct answer, but it's the most complicated question in the world."

  The Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) expo Beyond "Beasts": The Art of Court 13 is a long-form, multimedia answer to that question. The expo features video, music and sculpture by the collaborators who created the Oscar-nominated film, and the exhibit is designed to shed light on how the group's creative process works. Video installations include unseen footage from the film, behind-the-scenes footage (including how they created the aurochs), filmed auditions and short films that preceded Beasts. A music room will offer an array of music and sounds mixed for the film, and there is a sculptural installation by Eliza Zeitlin, Benh's younger sister and a creator of many props and buildings in the film.

  "We're such a collaborative group," Benh says. "You can walk into the stew of images and the people and things that were inspirations (for the films). We've created a trip into the collective mind (of the group)."

  Zeitlin started developing Beasts in 2008. He was in New York when Hurricane Gustav was bearing down on Louisiana. Many of the collaborators in the Court 13 collective were in New Orleans, and they did not evacuate. Zeitlin started thinking about why some people don't evacuate before a storm or choose to stay in a storm-prone area. The project expanded to incorporate input from a wide array of people, including cowriter Lucy Alibar, other Court 13 filmmakers and Eliza and other artists. Eventually, they created the story of Wink (Dwight Henry) and his daughter Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis), who live in a coastal area outside of the levee system. The magical realist film follows them as a storm floods their home. It was a critics' favorite and won the 2012 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for dramas as well as the 2012 Camera d'Or award at the Cannes Film Festival.

  Benh moved to New Orleans in 2006, and he and a group of filmmakers and artists made the 25-minute film Glory at Sea, which was well received on the film festival circuit.

  There also were films that built up to Glory at Sea, tracing back to Zeitlin's college projects. Ray Tintori's Jettison Your Loved Ones had led to Glory, and Zeitlin's stop-animation film Egg led to Jettison.

  The show opens Friday with a reception from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., followed by the Court 13 Homecoming Dance, featuring the Lost Bayou Ramblers. The evening also features a reading by Alibar and catering by Henry, the owner of Buttermilk Drop Bakery and Cafe. During opening night only, the pickup truck bed Wink uses as a boat in Beasts and other large vessels created for other films will be on display outside the CAC. On Thursday, the CAC's ArtSpeak will feature the filmmakers talking about the film and their art projects.

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