The extraordinary directorial debut of US director Benh Zeitlin is one of those special US independent films that come along too rarely. Not another lazy comedy full of slackers making cynical wisecracks, this is a genuinely original film with a mythic dimension that makes it sit even bigger in the imagination than it does on the screen.

The story is seen from the viewpoint of a feverishly imaginative six-year-old African American girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), who lives with her father in a ramshackle community on the wrong side of a Mississippi levee and obsesses about her absent mother. Her world is one where mythical, boar-like creatures mix with stories of the melting of the polar ice caps and a real-life flood of Biblical proportions.

Though this catastrophic event is obviously inspired by Hurricane Katrina, the real-life event is never mentioned; the film aims for something timeless and achieves it. Zeitlin captures a miraculous performance from Wallis, and despite his regrettable weakness for the overuse of shakycam, creates a powerful sense of place in his mixture of the fantastical with the everyday.