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Sundance hit 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' gets summertime release date

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The end of the world has a release date — June 29, 2012.

Yes, the world has ended lots of times before, but this time it’s happening in Beasts of the Southen Wild, the dreamlike Dixieland fable that became the hit of the recent Sundance Film Festival. It stars 8-year-old newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis as a swampland girl named Hushpuppy who faces down the apocalypse alongside her ailing daddy.

The movie won the festival’s Grand Jury Prize, and was picked up for distribution by Fox Searchlight, which just announced the date it will introduce its charismatic young actress to the world.

Here’s an introduction to the scene (and heart) stealing little one from EW’s festival coverage …

Wallis and Dwight Henry, who plays her father, Wink. (Photo by Christopher Beyer for EW)

The name you’re going to want to remember is pronounced: Kwah-VAHN-Jah-Nay.

After one recent screening, director and co-writer Benh Zeitlin stood in front of a cheerful crowd and tried to get his young star to talk.

“Where’d you come from? What’s your name?” he asked, lowering the microphone to her.

Wallis smiled and crossed her arms shyly. “I just told them …! We all did.”

Zeitlin nudged her to say her name again (knowing it’s not an easy one for folks to grab the first time.)

“How long you been with me?” Wallis said in a deep voice, narrowing her eyes.

“Is it Jane Smith?” Zeitlin joked.

Wallis rolled her eyes playfully. “Ha. Ha. Ha,” she said.

Beasts of the Southern Wild features rising floodwaters, melting ice caps, and giant, roaming, prehistoric creatures, but that steely determination on the pint-sized newcomer’s pursed face is just as formidable a force of nature.

Zeitlin asked what goes through her mind when she’s acting.

The little girl considered this for a moment, then broke into a smile: “La la-la, la-la, la-la …!” she sang. “That’s all I think!”

Then Wallis told a typically truncated little-kid story about making her first movie.

“How I got found was from my mom and her friend. They knew about the library auditions,” she said, pronouncing it “lye-barry.” “So we went to the lye-barry and he said I was the Hushpuppy girl,” she concluded, pointing at Zeitlin.

The first-time feature filmmaker laughed, and shared a more detailed version.

“The casting process started very, very early on. The entire cast is non-professional actors. None of them ever acted a day in their lives before we started,” he said. “The screenplay [co-written by Lucy Alibar, and based on her play] had to be very loose. It had to be flexible enough so that when we found each actor, we could change the character to fit them. We wanted to bring their life to the character.”

He turned to Wallis and warned: “Now I’m going to embarrass you.”

The little girl stuck her fingers in her ears.

NEXT PAGE: ‘That’s not right!’ 6-year-old tells director