Sunday, May 27, 2012

New Orleans Filmmakers Win Major Award at Cannes Film Festival

Beasts of the Southern Wild, the remarkable film by a collective of New Orleans filmmakers calling themselves Court 13, won the Caméra d’Or today at the Cannes Film Festival. The award, which recognizes the best film by a first-time filmmaker, is one of the most prestigious honors in the world of cinema

The film already caused a sensation at this year's Sundance Film Festival, winning the Grand Jury Prize and rave reviews from critics. The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy, one of the most influential film critics in the US, gave Beasts a rave review at its premiere at Sundance this January:
One of the most striking films ever to debut at the Sundance Film Festival, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a poetic evocation of an endangered way of life and a surging paean to human resilience and self-reliance. Shot along the southernmost fringes of Louisiana, cast with nonactors and absolutely teeming with creativity in every aspect of its being, Benh Zeitlin’s directorial debut could serve as a poster child for everything American independent cinema aspires to be but so seldom is. A handcrafted look at the struggles of some of the poorest people in the United States is no prescription for commercial success, but the presence of a dynamite little girl at the center of things could, along with critical praise and enlightened handling, push this most unlikely but entirely elating drama into a successful specialized theatrical release.
Sundance (which focuses mostly on US filmmakers) and Cannes (which deliberately spreads its gaze around the world) have notoriously different tastes. Because each festival prefers to only feature world premieres, it is rare for a film to even be selected for both. Beasts is only the second film to have ever won both the Caméra d’Or and Sundance's Grand Jury Prize - the previous was 1998's Slam, starring Saul Williams. Among the small circle of other films that have been acclaimed at both fests are Me and You and Everyone We Know, which won a Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision at Sundance before going on to win the Caméra d’Or at Cannes, and 1989's sex, lies and videotape, which helped establish Sundance as an important festival when it won an Audience Award in 1989, before going on to win Cannes' Palme d’Or, the top prize at that fest, and then becoming a surprise box office success.

Steven Soderbergh, the director of sex lies and videotape, also has a local connection, having grown up mostly in Baton Rouge.

Variety, the insider journal of the film industry, has already named Beasts director Benh Zeitlin one of ten directors to watch. At Cannes, Beasts was also honored by The International Federation of Film Critics, which gave the film its Un Certain Regard prize, one of three awards it gives out. Fox Searchlight paid a reported two million dollars for the distribution rights to Beasts, and are releasing it next month.

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