[Editor's Note: Beasts of the Southern Wild will open in Lafayette on Aug. 3 at the Grand Ambassador 14 on Kaliste Saloom Road.]
It’s always a bit scary going to the premiere of a movie that a friend made. What if it’s terrible?
No, forget terrible. What if it’s merely mediocre? What do you say afterward when you see your friend the filmmaker, face all eager for approval, waiting at the back of the theater?
Having made a living making movies myself now for, golly, 30 years, and having made along the way two or three pretty good pictures but also a couple of real stinkers, I’ve been that guy at the back of the theater. I know exactly how hollow hollow praise can sound. How there just ain’t no euphemism vague enough to hide the heartache of “dull.”
So it was with certain kept-to-myself trepidation that I went see my good buddy Benh Zeitlin’s first feature, Beasts of the Southern Wild. Sure, by that point it had already won some big prizes and gotten universally great reviews. But hey, I’d seen well-reviewed movies before that left me wanting to run from the theater shouting, “The emperor has no clothes!”
Not this time. Not even close.
Wow. In fact, double wow. As I told Benh that night, it’s very hard to make a great movie, but it happens often enough that we know it’s possible. But he and his huge team, many of them volunteers, not only made a great movie, they made a movie like none of us have ever seen before. (After you see it, tell me what genre it is. Go ’head, I dare you.) Such originality is so rare that for most of us it proves impossible, yet these guys did it on an extremely low budget.
My wife Michelle and I know firsthand how few financial resources Benh and his producers, Josh Penn, Dan Janvey and Michael Gottwald, had to work with. We know because they did a lot of their plotting and planning and set-building in our studio, even while the building was under renovation. They even lodged the “beasts” in our backyard. (“But they’re our ‘aurochs,’ Glen.” “No, Benh, despite how you’ve trained them and the great costumes you’ve made them, they’re still really pigs, and they’re crapping all over my yard.”)
So yes, this is a friend’s movie, and I could never be objective, so maybe you should ignore all my praise for it. But I don’t write for The New York Times or Los Angeles Times, both of which raved. Nor did I sit on the juries at Sundance or Cannes that both gave it top prizes. Every critic in the country is voicing his own version of “double wow” for Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Go see it this weekend. Even if its story, setting, style or characters might not be your cup of tea, go see it anyway. Because Beasts is like a rare celestial comet: a lifetime offers very few shots at witnessing something so extraordinary.
Filmmaker/novelist/museum designer Glen Pitre is best known locally as writer/director of the award-winning, Lafayette-shot movie Belizaire the Cajun.