Friday, September 19, 2008

25 New Faces of Independent Film: Benh Zeitlin

Benh Zeitlin

A true original, Benh Zeitlin‘s 27-minute short film Glory at Sea rocked audiences at this year‘s SXSW Film and Music Conference. Sharing short film prizes with John Magary‘s The Second Line and Andrew T. Betzer‘s Small Apartment, Glory at Sea has instant classic written all over it. Produced by the Court 13 collective, which counts Sundance (Ray Tintori) and National Board of Review (Dan Janvey) winners among its members, Zeitlin‘s intimate yet epic look at a ragtag group of heartbroken refugees, ever searching for their lost loved ones in a post-Katrina, postapocalyptic New Orleans of the future, is both funny and graceful, touching and altogether strange. Meticulously art directed and photographed, it retains an improvisational looseness and wanderlust, both in its style and its narrative, which verges on genius. What could have inspired such a singular work?

“The spark was an image of naked Greek men catapulting out of the ocean in a symphonic hairy porpoise-inspired resurrection finale that settled on an island paradise of obese naked love, which, of course, has almost nothing to do with the finished film,” said Zeitlin, who is still recovering from a broken hip and pelvis suffered in a car crash as he was driving to Austin for the film‘s SXSW premiere. “The script was written in the middle of an absolute spree, in an hour, then immediately sent to The Rooftop Filmmakers‘ Fund and it wasn‘t until I got the grant that I realized I was actually going to make it.”

Zeitlin, who has worked with his editor and camera operator Crockett Doob since playing Superman in Doob‘s Batman: The Movie at age 6, scouted Europe for locations before settling on New Orleans. “I met the people who ended up acting in the film, who brought with them a force of communal tenacity and fatalistic passion that shifted the focus of the film from just wild surrealistic bombast to something that‘s more human,” he explains. “Something that‘s about how people can respond to senseless tragedy rebelliously with hope and love and total insanity.”

An admitted football junkie, how does Zeitlin plan to follow up the veritable Hail Mary pass that is Glory at Sea? “I‘m heading back to New Orleans to develop two guerilla features about the end of it all,” he says. “The first is a comedy about a 10-year-old girl in Georgia preparing for orphanhood in the wild as her father‘s cancer and a mythological Southern apocalypse descend on her world. The other takes place in 90 minutes of real time aboard a boat led by a maniac who has acquired all the ingredients for a new civilization but has gotten stranded in the middle of the Arctic ocean. It‘s tentatively titled Santa Maria.” — Brandon Harris

Contact: benh‘àt’

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