Total Film

Mr. Lava Lava

WENDY Beasts Of The Southern Wild director Benh Zeitlin has been filming on a volcano…


I Our approach was: ‘We’re gonna look for Peter until we find Peter,’ and when we found him, he was a five-year-old boy in a Rasta camp in Antigua, and he wasn’t ready to be in a film.” Beasts Of The Southern Wild director Benh Zeitlin is explaining why it took eight years to deliver his follow-up, Wendy: a wild reimaginin­g of Peter Pan, shot on an active volcano.

J.M. Barrie’s story had been an obsession for Zeitlin and his cowriter sister, Eliza, ever since they were kids. “We spent our childhood waiting for Peter Pan to show up, and he never came. So we made the decision that if we ever had the chance as adults, we would find him.”

The runaway success of Beasts made the project a possibilit­y, while the star of that earlier film gave them the secret to refreshing the Edwardian material. “The character of Wendy was very much inspired by Quvenzhané Wallis,” says Zeitlin. In the film, Wendy is played by Louisiana-born newcomer Devin France. “I’d watched [Wallis] grow up, and saw the way she took on challenges. She was an incredibly strong person whose strength came from kindness, and those qualities unlocked Wendy.”

Zeitlin excised the undercurre­nt of misogyny and colonialis­m of earlier iterations, but that was only the beginning of his innovation­s: he also wanted to cast non-profession­al actors, add a resonant backstory for Captain Hook, and find an impossibly demanding location.

So, why an active volcano? “That was one of the first things we decided! We were taking the unattainab­le elements of this story and making them tangible – for the Fountain of Youth, a volcano’s destructiv­eness and fertility felt right. But also, when human civilisati­ons encounter eruptions, they freeze. As well as evoking the joy and loudness of Peter, we wanted to explore the tragedy when you fail to grow, and become stuck in time.”

Peter himself is played by Yashua Mack, discovered three years into the project, when he was just five. “I walked into that camp and there was a kid flying through the trees – he was literally three storeys up, in a tree,” says Zeitlin. “We hadn’t seen anyone who used his natural environmen­t as his playground in that way.” Mack passed his audition – but then had to learn to read and swim.

“Normally you’d say, ‘Well, that’s not going to work,’ but we had an incredible opportunit­y to make a film in a different way, allowing the adventure to dictate the timeline. Lots of things went wrong, but just in the context of the chaos we intentiona­lly invited.

“What we realised is that, when you grow up, you get to live the things you dreamt about doing as a kid.” RB


The young cast of Wendy find themselves in plenty of peril (above); young Yashua Mack plays Peter (below).
KIDDING AROUND The young cast of Wendy find themselves in plenty of peril (above); young Yashua Mack plays Peter (below).
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