It's always interesting to look back at the early shorts of a director to see just how much of their current style and technique was present at a budget and resource level which could conceivably be attained without the support of deep pocketed backers. When Benh Zeitlin's award-winning Beasts of the Southern Wild was released, much of the discussion about the director's origins focussed on his 2008 short Glory at Sea, which sits as an obvious precursor to Beasts, yet that film isn't how Zeitlin got his feet wet as a filmmaker. Watch 3 of his pre-Glory at Sea shorts recently uploaded to Court 13's Vimeo account after the jump.
Zeitlin's 2004 senior thesis, stop-motion/live-action hybrid short Egg, which went on to win the Best Animated Short Grand Jury prize at the 2005 Slamdance Film Festival, was his first film. Here's the synopsis for Egg:
Part stop-motion, part live-action, and all grotesque, Egg is a surreal reimagining of Moby Dick in which the epic struggle of that novel plays out in miniature, inside of an egg. That egg also happens to be bound for the digestive tract of a voracious bird, which doesn’t bode well for Ahab.
From there, Zeitlin went on to co-direct I Get Wet with Kabir Green, a short which I initially felt myself hovering over the close button (cutesy child narration isn't my favourite thing,) but ultimately was won over by. Again here's the synopsis:
A product of Grace Church School & Court13 Pictures "I Get Wet" is a touching tale of popularity and atonement.
And then finally, my personal favourite of the three mixes stop-motion, live action and archival footage and stills to tell the story within a story of the cruel Origins of Electricity (2006):
Dead heroes Thomas Edison, Nicola, Tesla, and Topsy the Coney Island Elephant make their return to the screen in this stop-motion animated tale of two light bulbs forced to confront the unholy meaning of light.
Whilst there perhaps isn't as clear a line to draw from these three shorts to Beasts of the Southern Wild, as there is with Glory at Sea, we can see Zeitlin's inventive resourcefulness play out in spades, as does his ability to place a viewer within the headspace of a child protagonist.
How do you feel these early films stack up to the feature? Can you detect a logical through line in Zeitlin's work? Let us know in the comments.