Beasts of the Southern Wild, winner of the Rooftop Films Eastern Effects Filmmakers Fund Equipment Grant, winner of Best Film at the Sundance Film Festival, winner of the Camera D’or at the Cannes Film Festival, and one of the greatest movies you will ever see is now playing in New York and L.A. Check it out this weekend at the Landmark Sunshine and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in NYC, and the Landmark Theater and Arclight Cinema in Los Angeles.
Seven years ago, Rooftop Films got a DVD in the mail. It was an animated short film submission by a young filmmaker named Benh Zeitlin, and it was entitled Egg. It was his Wesleyan senior year film project, but it was one of the strangest, coolest, most off-beat and entertaining shorts we had ever seen. The whole staff gathered around the TV to watch it together, and I remember Rooftop Founder Mark Rosenberg saying, “don’t we have such great jobs? People just send us stuff like this in the mail for us to watch.”
We immediately accepted it and showed it several times that summer, and we slowly got to know Benh and his production team better. We were shocked by how much they could do with so few resources, and we were very excited to see what they did next.
A short while later they applied for a grant from the Rooftop Filmmakers Fund, requesting a bit of money to make their next short film, a mini-epic that they originally planned to shoot on the coast of a small Greek island. We knew that they would do great things with this unique project, so we awarded them the grant. A couple of years later that film was finished, but instead of being shot in Greece, they had shot it along the coast in Lousiana. Benh and the Court 13 team had been moved by the perseverence of the locals in the aftermath of Katrina, and they wanted to pay tribute in that film to that courage they had witnessed. So they all moved down to Lousiana to make the movie, and after many hard, sweaty months they premiered Glory at Sea, one of the most powerful and vibrant short films of 2008 (you can watch it here). The film won the Wholphin award at SXSW, and went on to international acclaim.
The Court 13 team had fallen in love with Louisiana, and so they decided to set their first feature film in the embattled Bayou, and to cast local talent in all the primary acting roles. They were introduced to the wonderful people at Cinereach, who came up with just enough funding to make the project possible. Rooftop Films again awarded them a grant, this time the Rooftop Films & Eastern Effects Equipment Grant, which provided them with all their lighting and grip equipment.
The film was called Beasts of the Southern Wild. It took more than a year and a half to complete, and the production was not without it’s difficulties. But when it was done and it premiered at Sundance this January, it took the independent film world by storm. The New York Post called it “distinctive and captivating,” The Wall Street Journal said it was “Untamed, Extraordinary, Exquisite,” Rolling Stone said it was “a game-changer that gets you excited about movies again,” Entertainment Weekly called it an “extraordinary, strikingly original film that resists categorization,” variety declared it “a stunning debut,” and A.O. Scott of the New York Times said, “If, as the Fourth of July approaches, you find yourself craving an antidote to anger and cynicism, a bracing reminder of the meaning of independence, and a helping of homegrown art to go with your hamburgers and watermelon, then this may be just what you need.”
We at Rooftop could not be more proud to have lent a very small bit of help bringing Court 13’s movie come to life, and we are very thrilled to see the film garner so much praise. But, truth be told, we are not the least bit surprised at the film’s success. From the moment we first met Benh Zeitlin, Lucy Alibar, Josh Penn, Dan Janvey, Michael Gottwald, Ray Tintori, and the entire Court 13 team, we knew that they were capable of tremendous things–not just because they were talented, but because they were wonderful, loving, selfless, daring, and truly collaborative people. They care most and always about how a film affects it’s audience, but also about how that film is made and the way it enrichens the lives of the crew, cast and community who participate in its creation. Their willingess to give every last bit of sweat and blood to make a brilliant, invigorating and inspirational film is unmatched, and when a team cares that much about anything, they will create great things.
This past Sunday, with the support of Fox Searchlight, Rooftop helped to screen the film in a recreation center in Montegut Louisiana, the little Bayou town in which the film was made (you can read about the screening here). More than 600 locals crowded into a packed modified gymnasium to see their homeland represented on the big screen. When the opening sequence exploded, the score swelled, and the words Beasts of the Southern Wild burst onto the screen, the locals exploded into applause, and chills shot up and down our spines.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is as special as a film can be. It changes the way you think about making independent movies. It alters your sense of what one can achieve in art and life. It reminds you of the joy of watching films as it floods your heart with the sense that everything is possible and that even the smallest moments can feel like epic victorious when presented with boundless love and joy.
So go to see Beasts of the Sourthern Wild this weekend. And tell all your friends to go next weekend. If films like this succeed in reaching large audiences, then there will be more adventurous filmmakers who will strive to make movies that are as grandly gorgeous as Benh’s film is. It is true that not many of these films will manage to be as magnificent as Beasts, but that isn’t the point. The point is this: wouldn’t we all want to live in a world where more filmmakers strove, with every bit of their soul, to make movies that touch our hearts, blow our minds, and bring to our eyes images that we have never seen before?
Support the best and most courageous in independent cinema and you help to make the cinematic landscape more vibrant and beautiful. Tickets are on sale now at Landmark Sunshine and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in NYC, and the Landmark Theater and Arclight Cinema in Los Angeles.