“Hurricanes hit the bayou all the time. It was really important for us that it was very much from her point of view. We were interested in what that experience [of losing a parent] feels like in this environment.” Alibar and Zeitlin moved to the area to write and scout for locations and get all the details accurate. Alibar mentioned that they would, “Just talk to a lot of people. It was how we got the idea for the school boat. That’s how it used to be, they would teach classes on these boats and go from house to house and pick up kids and they would have school on the boat, because they’re right on the water.”
Alibar says a lot of the apocalyptic, end of the world themes came from her own upbringing: “That came more from growing up in the Bible Belt, where it’s always about to end. It’s in the air in this way that you just think about it a lot. It’s natural; it is something that is going to happen, eventually. To me, it fit with, the idea that eventually you are going to lose your parents. It seemed in the same mythical plot. That was what I was working a lot with in the beginning.”
This emotional story fit in directly with the environmental issues of the Southern Louisiana location for the director. “For Benh, hearing this child’s way of talking about the apocalypse, he really connected that to the bayou where it looks like it’s actually happening," Alibar elaborated. "It’s almost Biblical, the swarms of dead fish. I remember, after the oil spill, going through the water, it’s almost this gelatinous red grease that looks like blood on the bayou. It happened the first day of the shoot. It was really important to work with the natural landscape and what’s happening in south Louisiana without ever veering from a 6-year-old’s point of view.”
“We rehearsed with them [Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry] a lot before we started shooting, and we’d go away, rewrite, come back. We’d both intentionally overwritten at first to see what worked and what didn’t. It just became clear, rehearsing with them, how to carve that out a little bit,” Alibar revealed. And during the shoot, “it was so much more about watching my baby get born. I didn’t know that it was unusual for a writer to be allowed on set; that was the kind of environment they kept, there’s not a hierarchy in the traditional sense. It just felt like a bunch of friends telling this great story together, that we were so excited to be telling. It was so important to us to get it right, that we really deliver and live up to everything that we wanted to do, which to me was a story of great love between a parent and child.”
The incredible journey this film has been on since its Sundance debut hasn’t really even totally sunk in yet for Alibar.
She seemed at a bit of a loss for words to describe the experience, but that she finds it gratifying to be able to share the film with audiences. “I can’t believe it…I feel very humbled at the end of every Q&A, every time I talk about this movie with a group of people, there will be somebody who wants to talk about their relationship with their dad, their relationship with their kid, a parent/child relationship. It’s such a special thing to hear somebody talk about because it’s something you don’t really talk about that much," she said. "That people would share something so personal with me, and just connect to me in such a deep way, it’s one of the really grounding things about this experience.” The story of that kind of relationship has always been the most important thing for Alibar in the film, as she says, “ultimately what I wanted to do was tell this story of a father and daughter facing the end of the known world together…to me that’s always been the heart of it.”
Alibar has both plays and screenplays on her newly widened horizon that she is working on now.
“I’m working on another play right now about the area of the world that I’m from, the Florida panhandle/lower Alabama, and then I’m adapting another play of mine for Escape Artist [Todd Black’s company]. I feel like my horizon has expanded so much in terms of the projects I’m working on and the things I like to do and I’m really deeply happy and humbled by all of it. It’s like a pile of gold falling into my lap.”