‘Beasts’ nabs 4 Oscar nominations

Kushner’s ‘Lincoln’ screenplay up for award

This film image released by Fox Searchlight Pictures shows Quvenzhane Wallis portraying Hushpuppy, left, and Dwight Henry as Wink in a scene from,
This film image released by Fox Searchlight Pictures shows Quvenzhane Wallis portraying Hushpuppy, left, and Dwight Henry as Wink in a scene from, "Beasts of the Southern Wild." (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight Pictures, Jess Pinkham)

The Louisiana-made “Beasts of the Southern Wild” earned four Oscar nominations Thursday. A small, independent film produced for approximately $1.5 million, “Beasts” received nominations for best picture, best actress, best director and best adapted screenplay.

Quvenzhané Wallis, a 9-year-old from Houma, earned a best actress nomination for her “Beasts” performance. The film’s director, Benh Zeitlin, a New York native who moved to New Orleans in 2006, received a best director nomination. “Beasts” is the 30-year-old writer-director’s first feature-length film.

The surrealistic “Beasts of the Southern Wild” depicts a south Louisiana community threatened by global warming. Wallis, who was 6 years old when the movie was shot, plays Hushpuppy, a motherless child whose father, played by New Orleans baker Dwight Henry, is dying.

Zeitlin shares his nomination for best adapted screenplay with New York playwright Lucy Alibar. They adapted Alibar’s Georgia-set play, “Juicy and Delicious,” into a Louisiana story.

Fox Searchlight Pictures released “Beasts of the Southern Wild” last summer, following its prize-winning screenings at the Sundance Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival.

Despite the movie’s film festival honors and critical acclaim, Zeitlin didn’t expect his low-budget movie to receive multiple Oscar nominations.

“The fact that we got four is beyond anything I could have hoped for,” he said Thursday afternoon from Los Angeles. “It’s incredible.”

Zeitlin, Wallis and “Beasts” producers Dan Janvey, Josh Penn and Michael Gottwald are in Los Angeles to attend the Critics’ Choice Awards and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards. The latter group is awarding its New Generation Award to Zeitlin, a best supporting actor award to Henry and a best musical score award to Zeitlin and co-composer Dan Romer.

Singer-fiddler Louis Michot, a member of Cajun-rock band the Lost Bayou Ramblers, also is in Los Angeles, to perform music from “Beasts of the Southern Wild” at Saturday’s L.A. Film Critics Association ceremony.

Zeitlin and the film’s producers watched the Thursday morning Oscar-nomination announcement in their L.A. hotel. Their reaction was euphoric.

“Chairs were overturned, room service menus flew about the room,” the director said. “It was a total, all-out celebration.”

After the “Beasts” filmmakers’ celebratory romp through the hotel, Zeitlin said, they went to their leading lady’s room.

“We carried Quvenzhané around her room,” the director said. “It’s a great advantage having a 9-year-old as your star. She’s easy to pick up.”

Zeitlin hopes that the many honors “Beasts” has received will bring prestige to Louisiana’s busy yet still developing film industry.

“Since the first day, I’ve wanted to be part of building an infrastructure here for filmmaking,” he said. “I love working in Louisiana. I plan to be in Louisiana the rest of my life, making films.”

The director also hopes to be part of a burgeoning home-grown film industry in the state.

“There’s a big difference between films that are shot in Louisiana and films that come from Louisiana,” Zeitlin said. “I hope to part of that second category. And I hope more people will look at local people. Our actors in ‘Beasts’ are all local.

“There’s just so much talent out there, ready to shine. I’m so grateful to New Orleans and Louisiana for providing miracles like Dwight Henry and Quvenzhané Wallis, and to the towns we collaborated with to make the film. So much of the heart of the movie comes from the place.”

In other Louisiana Oscar news, former Louisiana resident Tony Kushner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who grew up in Lake Charles, received a nomination for best adapted screenplay for the Steven Spielberg-directed “Lincoln.”

“I’m overwhelmed by the Academy’s response to the film,” Kushner said in a statement.

“I heard that I’d been nominated while waiting to take off on a plane from JFK to LAX. James Gandolfini, who was sitting in front of me, gave me a hug and a kiss, so I’m about as happy as can be. ”