Oscar Directors: Zeitlin, Benh–Background, Career, Awards, Filmography

August 15, 202

Benh Zeitlin Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: No

Social Class: Upper-middle; parents writers, folklorists

Ethnicity/Nationality: father Jewish

Education: Hastings High School

Training: Wesleyan University

First Film: Beasts of Southern Wild, 2012; age 30

First Oscar Nomination: Beasts of Southern Wild, 2012; age 30

Other Nominations: Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay noms

Other Awards: Gotham

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Career Output: NA

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Death: NA

Benjamin Harold “Benh” Zeitlin (born October 14, 1982), a filmmaker, composer, and animator best known for directing the 2012 film Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Zeitlin was born in Manhattan and raised in Sunnyside, Queens, and in suburban Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. He is a graduate of Hastings High School and Wesleyan University. He was born to writers and folklorists Mary Amanda Dargan and Steven Joel Zeitlin, who founded the NYC non-profit cultural organization City Lore. His father, who is Jewish, spent most of his childhood in Brazil, and his mother comes from a rural, Protestant background in Darlington, South Carolina.

In 2004, Zeitlin co-founded the Court 13 independent collection of filmmakers, named after a neglected Wesleyan University squash court that he and his friends had once commandeered as a filming location. Zeitlin and his younger sister Eliza moved to New Orleans while he was making his first short film, “Glory at Sea,” in 2008.

In 2012, Zeitlin’s first feature, Beasts of the Southern Wild, adapted from a play entitled Juicy and Delicious by Lucy Alibar, won the Caméra d’Or award at the Cannes Film Fest, the Grand Jury Prize Dramatic at the Sundance Film Fest, and the Grand Jury Prize at the 2012 Deauville American Film Fest.

The film earned the Los Angeles Film Fest’s Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature and the Seattle Film Fest’s Golden Space Needle Award for Best Director.  Zeitlin both directed Beasts of the Southern Wild and co-composed the score.

At the Gotham Independent Film Awards in 2012, he won the Breakthrough Director Award, and the inaugural Bingham Ray Award, which honors the independent filmmaker. Zeitlin also won a Humanitas Prize (as co-writer/director; shared with Alibar as co-writer). He has also received nominations for two Oscars at the 85th Academy Awards: Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay (Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin), and the film itself was nominated for Best Picture.

In 2019, Zeitlin directing his feature Wendy in Montserrat, an island south of Antigua. Inspired by Peter Pan, Zeitlin described the film as ‘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.”

Filmography
Glory at Sea (2008) (short film)
Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Wendy (2020)

Zeitlin was the 2012 recipient of Smithsonian magazine’s American Ingenuity Award in the Visual Arts category.