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Parents And Movies Inspired Hastings' Benh Zeitlin

The Zeitlin family, from left, Benh, Steven, Amanda and Eliza (front) with several pets who appeared in Benh's Oscar nominated film.
The Zeitlin family, from left, Benh, Steven, Amanda and Eliza (front) with several pets who appeared in Benh's Oscar nominated film. Photo Credit: Ethan Moses

HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. - Benh Zeitlin's filmmaking dreams were nurtured by creative parents and a healthy appetite for the movies, a combination that has helped bring the 30-year-old former Hastings-On-Hudson resident two Oscar nominations.

Since Zeitlin's independent film "Beasts of the Southern Wild" received four Academy Award nominations Thursday, the nominated director/screenwriter has been flying from his home in New Orleans to Los Angeles, to Europe and back doing interviews and screenings.

Meanwhile back home in Hastings, Benh's parents, Amanda Dargan and Steven Zeitlin have been fielding congratulatory messages from friends and reflecting on the sudden worldwide success of the son who, along with sister Eliza, required some amount of parental guidance along the way.

"He's ecstatic that he is getting to meet all the directors he's admired," Steve Zeitlin said. "He's happiest that he'll be able to make more films and that ("Beasts of the Southern Wild") is being seen by people all over the world."

Steve Zeitlin and Dargan are writers, folklorists. He founded City Lore: The New York Center for Urban Culture , which preserves and celebrates past and present culture of New York City. The couple attribute their childrens' career choices in the arts to hours of creative play and movie watching.

"We watched one hell of a lot of movies growing up," Steven Zeitlin said. "For a lot of her high school years our daughter was grounded, so it meant everyone was grounded and we sat around and watched movies together."

Benh Zeitlin stayed close to friends from his Hastings days, among them Crockett Doob, co-editor on "Beasts", and co-screenwriter and fellow Oscar nominee Lucy Alibar, who he met as a 10th grader at a writing and film workshop. Sister Eliza was production designer and Doob the editor on Zeitlin's first film, "Glory At Sea".

"Benh did puppet shows for (Eliza's) birthdays until she was 12 or 13 and they played lots of fantasy games using stuffed animals as characters," Steve Zeitlin said. "Benh has tried to keep a family atmosphere around his work. He feels comfortable working with his friends."

When his parents joined others in banning Quentin Tarrantino's adult thriller "Pulp Fiction", 12-year-old Benh and his film-loving pals were caught watching the movie.

"The kids were climbing out the basement windows and  running to get away, Benh with the VHS tape in hand." Steve Zeitlin recalled.  "He got to tell the story to Tarrantino recently and said that was a great moment."

Up next is the Film Independent Spirit Awards on Feb 23 for which Benh Zeitlin is nominated as best director and for best film, followed by the Oscars on Feb. 24.

"Benh is at the perfect time in his career and is able to enjoy the experience," his father said. "We're all very excited and proud of the work he has done."

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