HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. - One gets the feeling that two-time Oscar nominee Benh Zeitlin of Hastings is already a big winner even though the 85th Academy Awards envelopes won't be opened until Feb. 24.
Zeitlin, who grew up and attended public school in Hastings, was nominated last month for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay (with co-writer Lucy Alibar) for his work on the critically acclaimed independent film "Beasts of the Southern Wild," which has been nominated for Best Film.
"The nominations have created a whole new level of exposure for this little film that easily never could have seen the light of day," the 30-year-old Zeitlin said. "It's created tremendous opportunities for everyone involved."
Zeitlin won the Breakthrough Director Award at the Gotham Independent Film Awards in 2012 and received the inaugural Bingham Ray Award, which honors the independent filmmaker who died in 2012.
Fresh off an appearance on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" with his film's 8-year-old star Quvenzhane Wallis, Zeitlin said he has been traveling cross country from Los Angeles to his adopted home in Louisiana promoting his film. Wallis is the youngest actor ever to be nominated in the Best Actress category.
For a film that was made with a borrowed $1 million budget and a cast of non-professional actors, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" has now grossed nearly $13 million, according to Box Office Mojo, which tracks film revenues.
"The most exciting for me is that we now have the leverage to keep working on our own terms and continue trying to make independent films in Louisiana with the family that created Beasts," Zeitlin said. "So, in many ways, we just get to stick with the plan, but it feels great to know with relative certainty that I get to keep spending my life making movies."
An Oscar statuette would make Zeitlin very happy, but the growing recognition for his first feature length film has already inspired his future in film making..