Oscar Experience New Orleans is a high-profile gala to benefit the Red Cross

Oscar Experience to benefit Red Cross

Will cute little Quvenzhané appear? Or will we sight Benh Zeitlin?

That’s the buzz around town as New Orleans prepares for Oscar Experience New Orleans on Sunday at The Theaters at Canal Place.

Oscar Experience is an opportunity for local charities to partner with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to host gala Oscar-watching parties and raise money that stays in the community.

Almost 50 cities throughout the United States host these parties, benefiting as many charities. Oscar Experience New Orleans, in its 10th year, benefits the American Red Cross Southeast Chapter.

It’s a particularly exciting year for the Oscar party, thanks to the success of Hollywood South and the films made in Louisiana — particularly “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

“Beasts” picked up an astounding four nominations — for best actress (Quvenzhané, now 9, is the youngest actress ever nominated), best director, best adapted screenplay and best picture.

“Beasts” was directed by Benh Zeitlin, who is originally from New York but who has been living in Bywater since 2006.

He co-wrote the screenplay with Lucy Alibar, a friend he made at camp at age 13 who also lives in Bywater, from a play “Juicy and Delicious” that Alibar wrote five years ago.

The film stars Quvenzhané Wallis, from Houma, as the 6-year-old heroine Hushpuppy. Dwight Henry, co-owner of the Buttermilk Drop Bakery & Café in Tremé, plays Wink, Hushpuppy’s father.

Neither had ever acted before, but both had lived through hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Wallis took home the Best Young Actress Award from the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards recently.

The film centers on the Bathtub, a small community on the Gulf of Mexico that endures a hurricane and its aftermath, and was filmed mostly in the Terrebonne Parish towns of Montegut, Dulac and Isle de Jeans Charles.

Now that he’s lived here and has filmed a movie here, Zeitlin says he’s hooked on New Orleans.

“Since the first day, I’ve wanted to be part of building an infrastructure here for filmmaking,” Zeitlin said in an interview in The Advocate on Jan. 27.

“Louisiana is busy, yet still developing a film industry. I love working in Louisiana. I plan to be in Louisiana the rest of my life, making films.”

Another New Orleans-linked film nominated in three categories is Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchanged” for best picture, original screenplay and supporting actor, which was shot in the city.

Tony Kushner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who grew up in Lake Charles, received a nomination for best adapted screenplay for the Stephen Spielberg-directed film “Lincoln.”

In true New Orleans fashion, Oscar party-goers will be greeted by local musicians, hors d’oeuvres and cocktails.

Guests can then settle into the luxurious theater seats at Canal Place and watch the Oscar presentation on the big screen or linger in the just-done-over majestic foyer at open bars to bid on an array of silent auction items.

“Oscar Night generates excitement all over the world,” said Kay W. Wilkins, American Red Cross South Louisiana Region CEO.

“With the Academy’s help, our guests will feel like they are on the A-list.”

During the show, Chef Adolfo Garcia’s Gusto Cafe will provide a menu to complement the night’s atmosphere, along with special movie-themed drinks.

There’ll also be a raffle, courtesy of Lee Michael’s Fine Jewelry. Patrons receive copies of the official commemorative poster and the official Oscar show program from the Academy.

“These gatherings represent the year-round philanthropic work the Academy does,” Academy CEO Dawn Hudson said. “We’re thrilled to be able to celebrate the movies with fans nationwide while supporting charities around the country.”

Meanwhile, while we’re putting on the glitz and glam for charity, Zeitlin has a new project in the works which he won’t talk about yet, Wallis is back in Houma in the fourth grade and Henry is putting together an online operation for his Tremé bakery.

And will cute little Quvenzhané show up? Or how about Benh Zeitlin? It’s certainly worth attending to find out.

Angela Carll is a contributing writer. She can be reached at angcarll@gmail.com.