Benh Zeitlin


Benjamin Harold Zeitlin is a New York native who grew up with a dream like so many others: to make movies. After starting as a group of college students helping a friend with a thesis, Court 13 has gained international recognition making Benh Zeitlin an important entrepreneur of film in the world today. From Wesleyan College in Connecticut, Zeitlin and Court 13 are happy to now call New Orleans home.


In 2004, his senior year at Wesleyan University, Zeitlin and his “army” worked on his senior thesis, an 8 minute short entitle “Eggs,” on the abandoned squash “court 13.” Zeitlin spent time after graduating in Brooklyn where he continued to make films and pursue his dream. Zeitlin even taught an after school program at the Grace Church School teaching children about filmmaking. [1]

New Orleans Beginnings

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Zeitlin and a few of the original Court 13 traveled down to New Orleans. After they attempted, but found no success, with making a film about a Lithuanian baseball team, they decided to make the aftermath of the Hurricane their new project. In the fall of 2006, their first season in New Orleans, they conceived the story “Glory at Sea” which ended up being a 28 minute short film giving Zeitlin and the rest of the court recognition as players in filmmaking. The casting for the movie was mostly done out of this local bar, Buffa’s. The Court even made a boat for the film out of Katrina scraps. After a little time filming, the coast guard deemed the boat the “least seaworthy vessel” that was ever floating. This didn’t stop them though. At the Prytania Theater, “Glory at Sea” was premeiered and went on to play around the world. [2]

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Following Glory at Sea’s success, Zeitlin and the rest of the crew began work on their first feature film, “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” The story is set in a fictional town just off the levee called “the Bathtub” which was devastated by the storm. Zeitlin first heard rumors that the film would be a success at a prescreening of which he sat in the lobby waiting until the feature’s first public screening at the Eccles Theater in Utah to watch its entirety. Nervous and anxious, Zeitlin showed up the showing the next night only to find about 120 Louisiana natives had made the 36-hour drive to Park City from New Orleans to support him and the rest of his team. “So there were shrimp boots. And there were pastries from the Buttermilk Drop, actor Henry’s New Orleans employer. There were even fireworks,” chronicled Mike Scott, a writer for the Times-Picayune. [3] After receiving overwhelming success at Sundance which got them the festival’s top prize, a deal with Fox Searchlight to distribute the film, and later an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, Zeitlin’s journey had really only just begun.
Before Zeitlin’s time, a Trust came to dominate the movie scene. The Motion Picture Patents Company (MPPC) controlled all segments of the industry. They were in charge of production of raw film, manufacture of motion pictures, manufacture of projecting equipment, film distribution, and exhibition. [4] However, Zeitlin and Court 13 had to go through multiple different agents for all of these steps in the industry today. This trust was busted under Franklin D. Roosevelt in the early 1930s.

  • “Benh Zeitlin.” IMDb. Accessed April 07, 2013.
  • Court 13. “About :: COURT 13.” COURT 13 RSS. Accessed April 07, 2013.
  • “Sundance Sensation – The Louisiana-Made Indie Film Beasts of the Southern Wild Comes Home with the Fest’s Top Prize and a Studio Deal,” Times-Picayune, February 11, 2012, C1.
  • Anderson, Robert. “The American Film Industry “ The Motion Picture Patents Company: A Reevaluation, p. 104. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.

This page was last modified on 07 April 2013, at 03:43


Buffa's Bar

1001 Esplanade Avenue, New Orleans 70116


Prytania Theater

5339 Prytania St. New Orleans, Louisiana 70115