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Benh Zeitlin Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (1) | Mini Bio (1) | Trivia (15) | Personal Quotes (12)

Overview (1)

Height 5' 7" (1.7 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Born in New York City and raised in Sunnyside, Queens and then Westchester County, Benh Zeitlin began his career as a film-maker at the tender age of 6 years when he and a friend made a Batman movie. He continued making films as a child before attending Wesleyan University, where he majored in film. After graduation, Benh spent a summer in Prague working with a prominent animation artist. Returning to the U.S., he worked in a private school in Manhattan helping elementary students create short films.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: PeterMH

Trivia (15)

Graduate of Hastings-on-Hudson High School and Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT.
His parents Steve Zeitlin and Amanda Dargan are both urban folklorists who founded and run the highly respected nonprofit City Lore organization in NYC.
He and younger sister and collaborator Eliza Zeitlin raised in Sunnyside section of Queens (NYC) and then in nearby Westchester County suburb of Hastings-on-Hudson, NY.
Helped start the Court 13 independent filmmaking collective in 2004, and moved to New Orleans where he eventually made his first short film, Glory at Sea (2008), after Hurricane Katrina had devastated this Louisiana city.
His first feature, Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), received support from the Sundance Labs, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation as well as an NHK award.
Benh met his "Beasts" co-writer Lucy Alibar in summer camp when they were teenagers.
The name for his Court 13 collective was derived from an all-but-abandoned Wesleyan U. squash court that Benh and artist friends often took over--as an ad hoc filmmaking site, not because of their love of racket sports.
Suffered a shattered hip and dislocated pelvis in car accident in March 2008 on the way to Austin, Texas and the screening of his award-winning short film Glory at Sea (2008) at the South by Southwest festival. Benh was uninsured, and fellow filmmakers soon after staged a benefit to raise money to help his medical expenses. Eventually he made a full recovery.
Benh and producer friend Ray Tintori from Glory at Sea (2008) worked in film production together one summer in Prague, where they met British cinematographer Ben Richardson.
Won the 2012 Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for the Visual Arts.
Influenced by directors as disparate as James Cameron, Emir Kusturica and--especially the craftsman's modest lifestyle of-- John Cassavetes,.
As of 2013, has directed one actress to an Academy Award-nominated performance: Quvenzhané Wallis (Best Actress, Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)).
Is at least the fourth successful filmmaker to graduate from Wesleyan University, following in the recent footsteps of Michael Bay, Joss Whedon and Ruben Fleischer.
Cousin of Marc Wallace.
Named one of 20 young filmmakers "to watch" by the NY Times in a September 2013 article.

Personal Quotes (12)

There are funny stories about [the making of Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) ] how I went knocking on someone's door and he came out with a shotgun. Even then, that guy showed up at our gas station two days later, and was like, "I'm sorry. I thought you guys were trying to kill me or you're from Witness Protection or something like that. I didn't mean to scare you. You want any red fish?" He'd just caught a bunch. You get real hospitality in Louisiana. I think it'd be much harder in another place because the state is extremely open and a more accepting, hospitable place.
[on "Beasts"] We finished the movie two days before Sundance, and we never had time to think about it, basically. There wasn't a month to be like, "What will happen? Will people like this movie?" I was focused on trying to get the movie to a version that I could live with. But it's been an amazing experience to see the film travel this far. It just such was a ragtag little film when we were making it. I don't think anybody ever imagined that the movie would be so big while we were doing it. It's so cool to hear it resonate with people who don't have the same cultural context that we do in Louisiana, never mind in America. It's so crazy.
[on directing six-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)] She was so focused and poised and just was fierce. She wouldn't do just what I told her to do, she questioned what I was saying. She'd say, 'I don't like this word' and she'd delete it. I allowed her to own the words and understand what they meant.
[on the origins of making "Beasts"] When I got out of [completing Glory at Sea (2008) ] I was realizing that I wanted to stay [in Louisiana], I was supposed to go back home, my parents were waiting for me back in New York for Thanksgiving and I didn't show up, and I didn't show up for Christmas, time went by and I realized I wanted to stay, and I wanted to figure out what it was that was pulling me, and also make a film celebrating a lot of the people that were in that cast who were holding out and refusing to get pushed off their land, and trying to rebuild, and wanting to celebrate that tenacity and make a film about the hold outs. That's where it started.
Preproduction is like this little animal that you're raising, and it's like a tiger, and you raise it until it's way bigger and stronger and faster than you, and you can't control it at all. You just set it loose and then you have to chase it. And so for everybody that worked on 'Beasts,' it was like an athletic event. A safari hunt. With this running beast that you're trying not to be destroyed by...it's always fun. The movies are secondary. The tiger chase comes first.
The people I really admire, like [John] Cassavetes, live the lives of their movies, and that's how I want to live.
I've never had a strategy. It's never been about I'm going to make this film, and then another...It was about telling stories about, and living with, the people I want to spend time with.
I'm not against wealth. But when you have a nice place you take a lot fewer risks. You're worried about making the safe choice because if you don't you might lose that house. And I never want to be in that position.
I've been reading a lot of Yoruba mythology actually. It's an African literature tradition. Right now I'm into 'The Forest of a Thousand Daemons' by D. O. Fagunwa. It's the most disturbing and thrilling kind of mythological imagery that I've ever read. It definitely gets your mind cooking. Particularly with writing, you always want things that are cutting up the way you think and challenging your brain to wrap itself around some pretty gigantic concepts.
[Feb 2013] I just got back from the Kustendorf Film Festival in the mountains of Serbia and I saw my favorite movie of the year, called Reality (2012) by Matteo Garrone. It's about this guy who runs a fish market whose life starts to collapse when he gets the whir of the idea that he might be able to get on a reality television show. It's a film with faces and actors that you've never seen before. It's got this wild energy that reminds me of an early Milos Forman film.
[re financial freedom after Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)] I don't know if we'll ever see any money off of the box office, but we won a couple of very generous awards here and overseas, and they have put me above the poverty line for the first time since I got out of college. We also have a development deal on the new film, and that's helped us have offices, which is also a monumental step forward.
[re second feature in mid-production, 2013] The new film is about a young girl who gets kidnapped onto a hidden ecosystem where a tribal war is raging over a form of pollen that breaks the relationship between aging and time. It follows a friendship-love story-adventure of her and a joyous, reckless, pleasure-mongering young boy as they swirl in and out of youth and as the ecosystem around them spirals toward destruction. We're working on it all day every day, but as all psychotic adventures go, you know where your destination is but not how long it's going to take to get there.

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