By: Abigail Levner, NOVAC Membership and Program Coordinator
(Image from Zeitlin’s BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD)
The last time Louisiana showed up at the Academy Awards, Louisiana-based Moonbot Studios took home the Oscar in Animated Short Film for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore‘ in 2012. Three years before that, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button earned thirteen Oscar nominations and won three. This year, LA is taking over L.A. in an even bigger fashion: Louisiana-produced Beasts of the Southern Wild and Django Unchained will go head to head for the title of “Best Picture” and reappear throughout the evening, Beasts in the categories of Directing, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Django for Best Original Screenplay, Sound Editing, and Cinematography.
Set in the fictional Bayou community of “The Bathtub”, Beasts was filmed completely in Louisiana’s Terrebonne Parish with over half the cast consisting of local actors. The film’s leading lady, Quvenzhané Wallis (Hushpuppy), is a Louisiana native herself, representing the city of Houma. At 9 years old, Wallis is the youngest actress to ever be nominated for “Best Actress in a Leading Role,” and if she wins, she will become the youngest category winner since 1986, when Marlee Matlin won for Children of a Lesser God at age 21. Other Louisiana cast members include: Dwight Henry (Hushpuppy’s father), who owns the Buttermilk Drop bakery in New Orleans; Levy Easterly (Jean Battiste), who studied at The Actor’s Alliance under NOVAC member Veleka Grey; Gina Montana (Miss Bathsheba) of New Orleans; and Philip Lawrence (Dr. Maloney) of Winnfield, LA. Beast’s crew also included local workers, including Terrebonne residents Mike Arceneaux (equipment assistant) and Barabara Dupre (head chef). Director Behn Zeitlin, who is nominated for Directing and Best Adapted Screenplay, is originally from New York but relocated to New Orleans in 2008 while working on a short film.
Like Beasts, Django Unchained highlights the Louisiana landscape with images of the Barataria Preserve section of Jean Lafitte National Park, the Evergreen Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana (which beat out Oak Alley Plantation to play home to Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Calvin Candie), and portions filmed at Second Line Stages in New Orleans. While the film boasts a more geographically diverse cast and crew than Beasts, Louisiana residents are abound: Charles Bodenheimer, Brad Quintana, and Caleb Guillotte assisted in the Art Department; in Casting, Robin Batherson of Batherson Casting and Meagan Lewis; Trace Cheramie (stunts); Nancy Piraquive (2nd Camera Assistant); and Shane Gros (Grip). In a recent article in Louisiana Film & Video Magazine, Laura Cayouette (Candie’s Sister Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwilly), Dana Michelle Gourrier (Cora) and Escalante Lundy (Mandingo Big Fred) are mentioned among the New Orleans natives to appear in the film’s cast. (Check out the article here)
Tarantino already clinched “Best Original Screenplay” at the Golden Globes, where Django was also nominated for “Best Motion Picture – Drama,” “Best Director,” “Best Supporting Actor” for Leonardo DiCaprio, and won “Best Supporting Actor” for Christopher Waltz’s performance. Django also earned a nomination for Best Theatrical Motion Picture from the Producers Guild of America and the American Film Institute named it one of their Top Ten Movies of the Year in 2012.
Aside from their Louisiana resources, Beasts and Django share few narrative similarities. But what these awards-season nominees prove is that Louisiana is home to the creative and technical talent needed to create fantastic stories that make history, no matter the scale or size of your project. Congratulations to the local filmmakers, actors, crew members, and NOVAC trainees that contributed to these pictures.
If you can’t get enough Oscar madness join New Orleans Film Society for this year’s unofficial 85 Annual Academy Awards® Screening at the Prytania, co-emceed by NOFS Board Vice President Henry Griffin and NOVAC Director of Programs Ashley Charbonnet. To learn more about film industry training opportunities with NOVAC, visit novacvideo.org.