LAFF Audiences Applaud Beasts of the Southern Wild

For Fox Searchlight, which releases Beasts of the Southern Wild on Wednesday, the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival could not have worked out any better.

Benh Zeitlin’s acclaimed apocalyptic drama, a multiple prize winner at both Cannes and Sundance, generated another swamp load of positive buzz during the downtown event’s first weekend and has now added LAFF’s Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature. There is no doubt this New Orleans-minted master work will roll on as the summer’s dominant indie theatrical release.

Also celebrating LAFF Audience Awards are Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore (Best Documentary Feature, Birth Story: Ina Mary Gaskin and the Farm Midwives), Malik Bendjellou (Best International Feature, Searching for Sugar Man), Bryan Buckley (Best Short Film, Asad) and Lex Halaby (Best Music Video, Piranhas Club: Man Man). Buckley is from South Africa, but his short, in Somalian with subtitles, is all about a little boy in the war-torn country. It previously won the Best Narrative Short award at Tribeca.

At the jury end, the main winners announced over Sunday brunch at CHAYA Downtown were Pocas Pascoal’s All is Well (Narrative Award) and Everardo Gonzalez’s Drought (Documentary Award). Each filmmaker takes home an unrestricted $15,000 cash prize funded by Film Independent.

“In an extremely competitive year, our juries had hard choices to make,” said LAFF artistic director David Ansen. “The winning films are wonderful examples of what the festival celebrates: bold, fresh, personal visions that expand the horizons of independent cinema.”

Congratulations are also in order to Joshua Sanchez, director of the U.S. Independence Day-themed flick Four. His namesake cast of Wendell Pierce, Emory Cohen, E.J. Bonilla and Aja Naomi King won the prize for Best Performance in the Narrative Competition.

Although many westside film folks are still grumbling about LAFF’s move from Westwood, the downtown location has vaulted the event to a whole new level of Toronto-like sophistication. In this third relocated year at Regal Cinemas, LA Live and satellite environs, LAFF was bigger and better than ever. There was also rarely a dull moment in the pass-holders lounge atop an adjacent parking lot, thanks to an endless supply of Stella Artois and Jameson Irish Whiskey sponsor libations.

In fact, if a prize were to be given for liveliest lounge regular, the hands-down winner would be Red Flag co-star Onur Tukel. The bearded dynamo barreled around the schmooze tent from beginning to end, making endless introductions and sparking lively conversation. Get this guy an Internet talk show, stat.