‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ producer visits Cinematheque

Samantha Foster
Spectrum Editor

The Academy Award nominated film, “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” has Richmond roots on its production team.

Richmond native and one of three producers for the film, Michael Gottwald, came to VCU on Tuesday as part of the Cinematheque series and answered questions from the audience following the free showing of the film.

“I like talking to colleges because a lot of (the development) of the (film) happened on a college campus,” Gottwald said.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a fantasy drama that follows Hushpuppy, a young girl, and Wink, her father, as they survive in the deep south of Louisiana, past the levees where it is considered uninhabitable.  When Wink becomes ill and a storm destroys their house, Hushpuppy leaves the swamp to find her mother.

“The film follows an emotional logic, that of Hushpuppy’s,” Gottwald said. “It’s left vague as to whether it’s her imagination or not.”

The film released in July, and was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actress. Nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, who played Hushpuppy, was the youngest actress ever to be nominated for an Academy Award.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” was based on two plays, one of which the director wrote. The other was a comedy written by the playwright Lucy Alibar.

“I think they had this realization that they were, in a way, telling the same story,” Gottwald said. “One about the fear of losing your land and sticking with it anyway. The other is about the fear of losing your father, the person that made you.”

Even though Gottwald is the producer of a critically acclaimed film, he said that he did not graduate college with the intention of going into the film industry.

“I don’t think I ever decided, really. It just sort of happened,” Gottwald said. “I started working on these projects with my friend when I was in college and after college. I never really remember deciding that that’s what I wanted to so, I just took it opportunity by opportunity.”

During his question-and-answer session after the film, Gottwald was asked by several cinema students what the role of a producer actually was.

“If at the end of the day, you’re the guy saying, ‘Here’s what we need to do to make this happen,’ then by default, you’re the producer,” Gottwald said. “You’re the person willing to do anything. You’re the person to do any and everything that needs to happen in order to make the director’s vision a reality.”

One of Gottwald’s main duties was to cast the film, which was made more difficult since the director did not want actors who were formally trained.

Hushpuppy was cast from Gottwald searching through Louisiana elementary schools, while Wink was the baker across the street from Gottwald’s studio in New Orleans.

“We wanted to cast the film in a very particular way,  … (so) we took it upon ourselves to go into areas that haven’t really seen film production before. … You may not have acted before but if (the director) liked your personality, that was the thing that attracted him to want to put you in the film.”

Gottwald’s stop at VCU was the last stop on the tour of award ceremonies and speeches for the film and he admitted that he was relieved to be finishing his tour of speeches.

“It’s cool to finish it where I grew up,” Gottwald said.

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