News Column

The story behind "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

May 4, 2013


May 04--A local documentary filmmaker created the movie behind one of the hottest films of the year starring one special little girl.

Brooklyn-based Cameron Yates, a Culpeper native, generated "The Making of Beasts of the Southern Wild" on location in the Louisiana bayou, capturing what it took to make the drama fantasy movie nominated this year for four Academy Awards, including best lead actress for now 9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis. She is the youngest actress ever to be nominated in the category.

Yates is back home to talk about his "The Making of ..." following a special screening of both movies Sunday at 2 p.m. in the State Theatre on Main Street. It will be the historic theater's second act as part of a full week of programming celebrating the historic venue's return. Tickets are $10.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" executive producer Phillipp Engelhorn will join Yates for the Q&A.

Yates said he had just finished his first feature documentary, 2011's "The Canal Street Madam," about a New Orleans madam busted by the FBI for running a brothel with her mother and daughter, when he was invited by Cinereach to document the behind-the-scenes for "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Cinereach is the nonprofit film foundation and production company responsible for "Beasts."

"I accepted without hesitation," Yates said of spending four months in Montegut, La., two hours south of New Orleans in what he called "the heart of the bayou."

"I've spent a lot of the last 10 years in Louisiana ... New Orleans definitely feels like another home to me," he said.

Beasts director Benh Zeitlin moved to Isle de Jean Charles, a small island on the Gulf of Mexico, to write the screenplay with Lucy Alibar, said Yates, adding he thinks the director fell in love with the place and the people who really live there.

"The bayou is a beautiful, magical place and seems quite removed from the rest of the country and literally at the end of the earth," said Yates.

Blown away by the script, he was also duly impressed by the creative and inspiring art and production design featured in "Beasts of the Southern Wild," a winner at Sundance and Cannes. Yates said he was also inspired to take on the project of filming the making of the movie because he was curious to see how people could pull off such a large-scale film on a relatively small budget.

"The documentary tells the story of these incredible artists, writers, musicians, carpenters, boat builders, animal trainers, etc. who call came together to create the world of the 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' and the fictional place called the Bathtub, where the main character Hushpuppy and her father Wink live," said Yates.

The majority of the film's actors had never acted before, he added.

"The Making Of ..." shows their backgrounds including audition footage. Sunday's audience in the State Theatre can expect to see that as well as "lots of water, animals, children and special effects artistry," said Yates.

He is the son of Culpeper developer and philanthropist Greg Yates, the visionary behind the renovated State Theatre.


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