NEW ORLEANS: The unlikely film that won honors at Cannes and Sundance returned home to Louisiana for a red-carpet premiere before opening in select theaters across the U.S. this summer.
The makers and stars of "Beasts of the Southern Wild," all newcomers to the big screen, hailed the New Orleans premiere after a whirlwind of media screenings across the country and in France.
"This is what we dreamed about the whole time we were filming, bringing a finished film back to Louisiana," said the film's director and co-writer, Benh Zeitlin. "Coming back and seeing all this in New Orleans, now it feels real."
"Beasts" uses the state's residents and bayous to tell the mythical tale of a 6-year-old girl named Hushpuppy struggling to survive in the southern Delta with her ailing father as a storm approaches. The motherless girl's world consists of a small but tightly-knit shantytown community with wild animals, both real and imagined.
"Beasts" won the grand jury prize in the U.S. dramatic competition at Sundance. At Cannes, where many U.S. films were shut out, the indie darling won the Camera d'Or for best first film by director Zeitlin.
After a months-long search for the girl who would ultimately play Hushpuppy, Zeitlin and producers found Quvenzhane Wallis, who was 6 at the time the movie was filmed in 2010. Now 8, she walked the red carpet Monday in a bright blue dress, glittery silver slippers and a big smile.
Dwight Henry, a New Orleans bakery owner hand-picked for the role of Hushpuppy's father, Wink, shook hands with colleagues, posed for pictures and waved at onlookers - some who honked their horns from the street.
"We've been all over the country, but this is what it's all about, bringing it back home," Henry said. "This is the moment I've been wanting to share with my family."
The film's success has been a boon for Louisiana, which sees more film activity than just about any other state outside the entertainment hubs of California and New York. But few films that hail from Louisiana have drawn as much recent acclaim.
"We are all filled with an immense amount of pride," said Michael Gottwald, one of the film's producers.
The Fox Searchlight film opens in select theaters in the U.S. this summer, starting with showings in Los Angeles and New York on June 27 and New Orleans-area theaters on July 4.