It's not easy to blow away the crowds at the Sundance Film Festival, an audience that spends more than a week devouring the latest and greatest in indie films. They're anxious for discoveries, but to truly wow them takes a coalescing of parts that low budget films often can't pull off. Which is why Beasts of the Southern Wild was such a wonder to behold.
The film's murky bayou landscapes, dreamlike imagery, and rousing score set the senses ablaze, but the connective tissue that held director Benh Zeitlin's debut film together were two unexpectedly ferocious performances. Minutes after Sundancers were introduced to Beast stars Dwight Henry and the eight-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis (non-actors Zeitlin discovered in Louisana), awards buzz exploded. These weren't just two to watch — they were instant contenders.
Now, Henry and Wallis face a minor setback: they've been deemed ineligible for the Screen Actors Guild awards.
According to Huffington Post, the indie gem has been disqualified for the SAG Awards because the film was not made under the guidelines of the actor's union. Many low/no budget films do qualify by hiring SAG actors and working with the organization to scale the performer's payments accordingly. But Zeitlin opted out of using "real" actors, choosing to cast Beast with locals with no previous acting experience. Before starring in the film, Henry ran (and continues to run) a bakery in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans. Wallis was surviving kindergarten. Neither had acting credits that made them SAG eligible, but instead, had the authenticity that Zeitlin knew he could craft into rich on-screen performances. And that's what he did.
A perfect world would see the SAG Awards bestowing their honors to the best performances of the year, but the end of the year announcements are also a way of reminding Hollywood of a group's importance. SAG strictly follows their own rules because, hey, they're SAG! That doesn't mean Beasts is completely out of the running — critical praise could carry it past the guild award season and straight to the Oscars. But SAG does have a precedence: the actor's union has successfully awarded the future Academy Award winners of Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress for the past three years (minus one: last year, Viola Davis took home Best Actress for The Help at SAG while Meryl Streep won the Oscar). If Beasts stands to compete, it's going to have to break down some historical walls.
SAG has made it clear that producers of Beasts of the Southern Wild could still jump through the hoops to qualify for the awards (read: pay the guild and actors additional money), but based on comments from Fox Searchlight, that's not in the cards. In a reactive statement Fox Searchlight Presidents Stephen Gilula and Nancy Utley stated, "We appreciate and honor the spirit in which the film was produced and the way it was made." So when SAG announces their winners on January 27, 2013, don't expect any big wins for Henry or Wallis — but don't count them out of the Oscar race either.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Getty Images]
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