Zeitlin ’04 Takes Top Honors at Sundance Festival

“When I was in college, someone at some point told me, ‘If you’re gonna make movies, don’t shoot on the water, don’t shoot with children, and don’t shoot with animals.’ And our movie is really about children and animals on boats.”

This isn’t a film series showing post, but by goodness, in a year or so it could be. The Wesleyan Mafia left its mark on the film world again this past weekend in the form of Beasts of the Southern Wild, a SFFS/KRF grant-winning movie by up-and-coming filmmaker and Wesleyan Film Studies alumnus Benh Zeitlin ’04. The film, described as “a dreamy exploration of survival on the flooded Mississippi Delta,” not only took the grand jury prize in the U.S. dramatic competition at Sundance this weekend (Zeitlin accepted the award while holding up the film’s star, eight-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis). It also signed with Fox Searchlight for $2 million. GO, WESLEYAN MAFIA, GO, eh? (Speaking of which, the film’s three producers includes Wes alum Michael Gottwald ’06, who was assistant director for Zeitlin’s thesis film, Egg, and completed his own feature  Frame of Reference in 2006.)

I haven’t seen the film, of course (I certainly hope to soon, preferably in the mighty Goldsmith itself), but from what I’ve read, it’s a rather surreal exploration of a girl named Hushpuppy living with her father “at the edge of the world”—the impoverished, flooded Louisiana delta.  Zeitlin, who worked on the movie for over three year, tried to sum up the whole project in an interview after the award ceremony:

This project was such a runt, this sort of messy-hair, dirty, wild child, and we just have been taken care of and just eased along until we were ready to stand up on our own. It’s just great that it happened here. This is the right place for the world to meet the film.

Zeitlin himself lives in New Orleans, “where dogs, cats, ducks, chickens and a 350-pound swine runs wild in his home.” Check the below interview at Sundance, where the director begins by mentioning his college experience—and the advice he boldly ignored while making Beasts:

Not that this is Zeitlin’s first glimpse of success and fame, though. If you’ve been following closely since ’04, you may remember Zeitlin’s animated senior thesis film Egg, a “surrealistic interpretation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick,” which brought home a top prize from the Slamdance Film Festival in Utah. When the Argus picked up that story in February 2005 (my fave excerpt: “Meadow Meats, a wholesale butcher shop downtown, contributed the veal tongue and sliced beef tenderloin used for the set”), Film Studies overlord Professor Basinger seemed to have some glimpse of what the future held for Zeitlin:

“Benh is the real deal,” said Jeanine Basinger, his former advisor and Chair of the Film Department. “He’s got amazing talent, works terribly hard, and he has an original, quirky sensibility. The combination was irresistible.”

Meanwhile, Zeitlin’s short film, Glory at Sea, also played at the Goldsmith over WesFest ’08 and was later made available for free via Court13.com.

Consider this a slightly belated congratulations to Zeitlin—from me, and also from THE_REAL_MROTH himself. What signifies success more than a shout-out on the presidential blog?

Scope out some pertinent linkage below:

[thanks to CH '13 for the original tip]