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Arts & Culture

Cinema Junkie Podcast 189: Telling 'Peter Pan' Through Wendy's Eyes

Devin France, who plays Wendy, on location with director Behn Zeitlan.
Searchlight Pictures
Devin France, who plays Wendy, on location with director Behn Zeitlan.

Director Benh Zeitlin gives us a modern reimagining of classic children's tale

I became a fan of Benh Zeitlin after his first film "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Now almost eight years later he has a second film that once again captures the wonder of childhood through a young girl's eyes. For "Wendy" he has reimagined "Peter Pan" from her point of view and place the idea of motherhood front and center. I speak to him about shooting on 16mm, working with non-professional child actors, and keeping reality as part of the magical world he creates.

Companion viewing

"Peter Pan" (1953, Disney animation)

"Finding Neverland" (2004)

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" (2012)

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" director Benh Zeitlin gives us a modern re-imagining of James M. Barrie's "Peter Pan" with "Wendy."

In 2012 transplanted New Yorker Zeitlin made "Beasts of the Southern Wild," a fierce and beautiful cinematic poem about a culture on the verge of extinction and defiantly staring down the challenges that accompany that.


The film had a young girl named Hushpuppy, played by non-professional actress Quvenzhané Wallis, as its central character. Zeitlin's new film "Wendy" also relies on non-professional young actors to drive the film.

"Wendy" opens in a cafe that exists perilously close to a train whose whistle seems to lure the wild children to escape. That train proves to be Peter Pan's means of gathering new companions.

In his director's statement, Zeitlin explained the origins of his film:

On every birthday of our childhoods, my sister Eliza and I wished as we blew out the candles that we would never grow up. We were terrified of our older selves and desperate to determine what kind of loss turns kids into grown-ups, before it was too late, and that door closed forever. From those early days we were visited by the dream of Peter Pan, the boy for whom fun, freedom and adventure stretch into infinity. In many ways, we ran from the specter of lost childhood by modeling our lives on his — dodging structure and responsibility at every turn, creating a band of lost boys who lived for adventure through our films and art projects.

In 2012 things began to change. Members of our fearless band of misfits had passed away, and others had drifted into new dreams of families, careers, working plumbing … Then like a bolt of lightning, the outside world came crashing into our Neverland with the success of Beasts of the Southern Wild. It was clear that the way we lived and made films was about to change forever. The lost boys were going to grow up whether we liked it or not, and in the days that followed, it hit me that it was time to tell the story we’d always dreamed about. Only it wasn’t Peter’s. Ours was to be the tale of the one who experienced the Neverland but had to leave it behind: the story of Wendy.

Through Wendy’s story, we would investigate the true nature of aging. Not the changes to our bodies, but the erosion of the spirit that happens only when joy, wonder and hope are lost. How could we grow up and never lose our freedom? This question became the guiding force for what became a seven-year journey through the trials of Neverland.
Zeitlin likes to take his time making films. It has been eight years since his feature debut, "Beasts of the Southern Wild." But he likes to take his time to carefully develop and nurture his films.

"Wendy" opens March 13 but you can get some early insights in the film with my podcast interview with Zeitlin.