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Listen: Swarthmore Connection Brings Producers of Oscar-Nominated Film to Campus

Q&A with John Williams '06 on Beasts of the Southern Wild

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The producers of one of last year's most critically acclaimed motion pictures, Beasts of the Southern Wild, recently screened the film on campus and discussed the film with members of the campus community.

The film's production team came to campus largely due to a direct Swarthmore connection: John Williams '06, currently a medical student at Brown University, was an associate producer and supervising accountant, among other roles, in the movie's production. Fellow producers Dan Janvey, Matt Parker, and Michael Gottwald joined him at the event.

"I was really excited to find out from one of my students that amid all the talent that worked on this film was one of our own," says Professor of Film & Media Studies Patricia White. "I sent John an email asking him to come and he responded saying not only would he be happy to come, but he would also bring some friends, who are some of the other producers. This was something fun for them to do, too, since they bonded so much making the movie."

Beasts of the Southern Wild panel

John Williams '06 (second from left), discussed the film with fellow producers Matt Parker, Michael Gottwald, and Dan Janvey. (photo by Elena Ruyter '14)

The team's work on the movie has been lauded since its release, winning awards such as the Grand Jury Prize in Drama at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and the Caméra D'Or Award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. It has four pending Academy Award nominations: Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Achievement in Directing, Best Writing or Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for Quvenzhané Wallis, who at age 9 is the youngest person nominated for this award in the Academy's history.

Williams notes that his return to Swarthmore felt surreal, yet also made him reflect on his undergraduate experience.

"Coming back here with a movie I am this proud of and with the friends I have made in the process is incredible," Williams says. "I am so happy and honored to be back here. The education here prepared me and helped me in so many ways. Swarthmore teaches you the ability to interpret and synthesize a broad amount of information and come into anything with some level of knowledge and always have something to offer."

Setting up for the event was a team effort. The Film and Media Studies Department, in addition to working with the producers to have them speak on campus, also arranged a dinner before the screening with the producers and some students. The College Movie Committee worked to promote the event with flyers and various forms of social media.

Students generally enjoyed the opportunity not only to see the acclaimed film, but also the chance to speak with the producers face-to-face and learn about how they made a vision into a reality.

"This event was great. Not only did I get a chance to watch the movie, which was not playing anywhere near my hometown, but everyone got a chance to interact with the producers and get a feel for what it was like to film it," says Lucia Luna-Victoria '15, a history major from Pembroke Pines, Fla. "They had an idea and they were true to it. One of the most interesting aspects was when they described that the camera was at Hushpuppy's [the character's] eye level, which really legitimized the intent of making the film an interpretation of what is happening in Louisiana through a child's eyes."     

The event was well attended, with over 200 people filling the seats of Science Center 101. Members of the campus community will also have the opportunity to see the producers again on Sun., Feb. 24, this time on television, when they hope to be winners at the Academy Awards.

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