If you’ve seen Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, you know that it announces a rare visionary talent on the independent American film scene. Anchored by two dynamic performances, one being the very best child acting you will see this year, Beasts effortlessly melds fantasy and neo-neo-realism into something virtually unseen on screen before. Doing away with narrative constructs, Zeitlin creates a world that thrusts viewers into the mind of a small, but fierce, girl as she lives out fantasies to make sense of a cruel, unforgiving world around her. In some ways the sense of living memories through the mind of a corrupted youth is achieved more successfully in Beasts of the Southern Wild than Terrance Malick’s similar, Tree of Life.
Zeitlin’s successful short film, Glory at Sea, signals a brewing talent on the horizon. It’s worth it to watch this early work to see how this filmmaker is thinking not in terms of the comfort zone of profiteering narrative but cinematic poetry. In Glory at Sea, like in Beasts, there’s shades of playful hope that remind of Guillermo Del Toro, allusions to the sentimentally raw Vittorio DeSica, and frustrated poetics similar to Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Perhaps what excites me most about Zeitlin and his team is their commitment to making films about New Orleans in the city itself. For American film to have a fighting chance as an art form, I believe filmmakers need to use new accessible means to create movements of cinema around the country, instead of being centralized in the over-saturated and increasingly cannibalized market of Hollywood.
Watch Glory at Sea and dream a little: