'Beasts of the Southern Wild' director to be honored by San Francisco fest

Posted by · 2:29 pm · April 19th, 2012

After catching Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild” at Sundance, I kept finding that the film was sticking with me. I wasn’t particularly enchanted while actually watching it, for some reason, probably because soaking up the richness of the voice and the uniqueness of the world was at the fore, but as I drifted away from it, it kept calling me back. I’m eager to see it again and I’m happy Fox Searchlight continued down a path of un-Searchlight-like acquisitions by picking it up in Park City.

The film was the only Sundance holdover announced as part of the 2012 Cannes film festival line-up this morning, following in the footsteps of films like “Precious,” “Blue Valentine,” “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and “Take Shelter” before it. It’s a natural pick and I’ll be curious to see how European festival audiences take to it. Could it signal even louder a potential awards trajectory? Maybe, maybe not. The truth is I don’t know how much of a chance a film like that could have in awards season, but it will certainly be a healthy contender with programs like the Gotham and Independent Spirit Awards, and potentially plenty of love on the critics awards circuit. (Surely young Quvenzhané Wallis will get her share of debut performance love.)

Sundance got the awards party started early when the film won the Grand Jury prize there, but today the San Francisco Film Society announced “Beasts” and Zeitlin as the recipient of its inaugural Graham Leggat Award at the upcoming San Francisco International Film Festival (the nation’s oldest fest). Who else will follow suit with similar kudos? And will the awards goodwill stretch throughout the season? We’ll know in a few months.

The award was named after Graham Leggat, the former executive of the San Franciso Film Society who passed away last year. And it’s a bit of a homecoming of sorts for Zeitlin, who can thank Leggat in part for helping him realize the film.

“Benh Zeitlin, one of the many filmmakers whom the Film Society has supported, has completely captured our imaginations and enthusiasm from our first meeting with him,” Society interim executive director Melanie Blum said via press release. “In fact, Graham was part of the original granting panel that awarded Benh one of two SFFS/Kenneth Rainin Foundation Filmmaker postproduction grants, totaling $105,000, for Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

Zeitlin will receive the honor at Film Society Awards Night at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco on April 26.

“The film, shot in New Orleans, is a bayou fairytale of sorts,” I wrote about “Beasts of the Southern Wild” at Sundance, “presenting a world familiar yet foreign, an ‘issue’ film without being an issue film at all…It’s dense with thematic substance that could be spun this way or that, which I dig, and the narrative is confident in its fantastical bent to a point that you just have to applaud the spirit of it all…I [came] away with…immense respect and admiration for the assured hand with which the film is conveyed.” Greg Ellwood was similarly enthusiastic at Awards Campaign.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild,” much like “The Tree of Life” last year, has been set for a nice counter-programming release date of June 27 in the US by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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