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Director’s Journey to Oscar Stardom Began in Sunnyside Alley

 

Jan. 21, 2013 By Bill Parry

When Sunnyside-born filmmaker Benh Zeitlin was nominated in the Best Director Category for the Academy Awards earlier this month, it turned the Hollywood movie industry upside down. After all, the 30 year old’s first feature film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, was made on a shoestring budget with a cast of nonprofessional actors.

Following the announcement, Zeitlin told the news media: “I feel like my house just crashed on the Yellow Brick Road and everything just turned color.”

“This feels historic,” Zeitlin told reporters.  The film “does not have any famous people involved, or any budget ($1.5 million), or any power,” he said, adding that “I didn’t know it was possible.”

Zeitlin’s name is in the same category as his idols Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee. “Those are idols to me,” Zeitlin said, “people whose films I’ve been watching since I could see.”

To the surprise of many, names like Quentin Tarantino, Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck are not among the Best Director nominees. Zeitlin’s mother, Amanda Dargan, told The Sunnysidepost, “Behn’s getting a big kick reading all the comments posted on websites right now. Everyone’s asking, who is he?”

Dargan moved to Sunnyside while pregnant with Benh in the early 80’s. She and her husband, Steve Zeitlin, lived on 46th Street in the Gardens before moving to a bigger house on 48th Street. The two folklorists, immersed in the city’s museum culture, raised Benh and his sister Eliza there.

While the kids liked Sunnyside Gardens Park, the two would race home from P.S. 11 and play all day in the alley behind the house. “He loved that alley so much,” Dargan said. “The way the neighborhood kids played there was the inspiration for one of the opening scenes of the movie.”

Rising crime in the 1990’s forced the family to move upstate to Hastings. “He never forgave us for leaving Sunnyside,” Dargan recalled, “Benh couldn’t stop crying when we left Sunnyside,” his father said. “He took a brick from the alley with him and still keeps it to this day.”

Four neighborhood families followed them to Hastings, including one of Benh’s closest friends, Crockett Doob. Doob was one of the editors on Beasts of the Southern Wild,while Benh’s sister Eliza designed many of the film’s sets.

After graduating from Wesleyan in 2006, Benh Zeitlin moved to New Orleans and lived among the shacks and shanties of the Lower 9th Ward, the area devastated when the levees broke after Hurricane Katrina. He would venture south to the bayous, drawn to the small communities that were out of step with the modern world.

One of these off-the-grid communities became the basis of the film. It tells the story of Hushpuppy, a seven year old girl in search of her mother after her father falls ill and her community is hit by Katrina.

Hushpuppy is played by nine year old Quvenzhane Wallis, who was six when Zeitlin discovered her during casting tryouts. Wallis, too, was nominated for an Oscar, the youngest person ever to be nominated for Best Actress.

Zeitlin was holed up with many of his cast and crew in a Los Angeles hotel when the Oscar announcements were made at 5am local time. “When they heard that Quvenzhane was nominated they made so much noise celebrating and jumping on the beds that Benh never heard his name announced for Best Director,” Dargan said.

In addition to Best Actress and Best Director, Beasts of the Southern Wild was nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Famed critic Roger Ebert called the film “a remarkable creation” adding that ”sometimes miraculous films come into being, made by people you never heard of, starring unknown faces, blindsiding you with creative genius.”

Steve Zeitlin didn’t want to say whether Behn would win or not. “I don’t want to jinx him,” he said, “but wouldn’t it be great if he could put that brick from the alley on 48th St. next to an Academy Award on his shelf?”

email the author: news@queenspost.com

35 Comments

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SuperWittySmitty

Geraldo’s report on Willowbrook aired in ’72; Reagan signed the LPS Act into law in 1967. But you are now saying that he was forced to sign this bill? The ACLU and the liberal policies of the courts were so powerful that Governor Reagan was unable to assert his own political will and had little to do with the policies he signed into law, as they were all dictated by external forces? (those pesky liberals and their darn influence!) Hmmm, I understand you have an opinion but I think you should focus on facts.

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TheOriginalRuben

I’ve had it with this SITE, constantly picking and choosing who comments and who gets deleted. This site got its traffic through ME. I was the one that made this site interesting. ME! I should be treated with respect! not have my names blocked from this site !

I am GONE! let’s see how your site traffic does without me Moderator!

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Sunnysider

I’m having fun imagining all you people brought together in one room for a discussion. A fight would probably break out before anyone was even seated

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Theman

As for that fox obsessed person who writes under other people’s names, look at the times of his posts you would think he would be happy Reagan signed the act otherwise he would be locked up at Bellevue !!

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Theman

Smithy u read but don’t see. First of all Reagan signed the Lps act in 67 , it became law in 69. He was forced to do this by the courts and the ACLU who wanted civil right for mental patients. At the time they could be held against their will and yes some terrible things happened in some places but this haste put upon Gov Reagan by the ACLU and democrats put everybody dangerous or not on the streets

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SuperWittySmitty

If you wanted to research what state governors were doing back in the seventies, where would you begin? researching the archives of the NY Post? Any serious researcher would ignore the tabloids and turn to the paper of record. I read the article in the Times and it was not at all opinionated- it explained, based on data, how the laws were changed; first in CA and then throughout the country. From what I see, Fox is a bit of a joke and the Times strives to maintain journalistic integrity. All media is presented by people and therefore subjective, but look for the truth and if it’s there; it will be easy to see.

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doc

You criticize FOX and then quote the NY Times? Are you kidding? Talk about two sides of the same coin.

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Foodtown refugee

Why is some dipwad posting under other people’s screen names and then puts words in their mouth? Typical liberal, juvenile antics. Pathetic.

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Theman

Hahaha, the ny times ! That’s the equivalent of Fox News . It’s the most bias rag I ever read

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Anonymous

Actually it was Governor Reagan who started the whole “empty out the mental institutions” thing. Other governors soon followed his lead, which apparently lead to the increase of homelessness, etc.

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Apair

Detroit, and many cities, fell apart because business moved away. I looks like cities are prone to more forces than just which party was mayor. Theman needs to develop a deeper understanding of urban history, or just put down the Fox pipe.

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JuliaJ.

Theman speaks the truth. Not to worry: Chrissy Quinn will protect us after she does away with stop and frisk. I remember when people moved from my old neighborhood in Brooklyn: had something to do with rising murder rate. Bill DeBlasio will also protect us.

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Dunk

He’s lucky he got out when he did otherwise his life might be spent on this site posting with you bunch of trolls and losers!what a sad collection of humans post here.

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Theman

Nope it was democrats who insisted on that policy. Check out Detroit , Philly and Chicago where democrats kept control, this is what NYC would look like without republican mayors. High murder rates and huge areas of utter desolation! Facts !

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Marilyn S.

Hastings is a Westchester commuter suburb. Does that count as “upstate” these days? And it is/was not crime free. Members of my family lived in Sunnyside from the 50s through the 80s and never had a break-in. One cousin moved to Hastings after her marriage and their house was broken into there in the 80s or 90s.

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theman

I know it’s amazing that I get all my facts from Geraldo Rivera and Fox, but the really interesting thing is that I don’t remember that the policies that I’m refering to we started during the Reagan administration.
Who cares. Death to facts!

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Theman

86 mets, it was liberal policy to release all the people with mental problems , courtesy of a gerealdo Rivera exposé . The then democrats had them all released on the streets with no meds or supervision . Change man is this legacy . It took two republican mayors with stop and frisk and other methods to get this town under control. If a democrat wins this year we will be back to the bad old days real quick .

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Sycamore

I saw the movie on Apple TV this weekend. RCN provided vey slow service so the movie kept stopping while the download caught up, which might have effected my opinion, but I found the movie sad, confusing, and horrific in many ways. The squalor, the alcoholism, the ignorance and isolation, were overwhelming. Yes, the human spirit is ferociously brave, but, well, I don’t know what to say. I should watch it again, I guess.

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86Mets

Except of course it was not liberals who moved, it was the racist conservatives. Also, I can’t really name any social policies, I just parrot things I see on Fox.

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86Mets

Ok, where does one apply for a job as a “folklorist?”

“Rising crime in the 1990’s forced the family to move upstate to Hastings.”

Ah yes, white, urban liberals running away from the results of social policies they support.

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