Brow Beat

Watch a Cannes Breakout’s Great First Film

The narrator in Benh Zeitlin’s “Glory at Sea.”

Still from “Glory at Sea.”

American films and stars may have fared poorly at Cannes this year, but there was one major exception: Beasts of the Southern Wild, directed by Benh Zeitlin, which won the Camera d’Or for best first film. This isn’t the first award for Beasts. It also won the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival, where Slate’s Bill Wyman called it “unforgettable” and New York Times critic Manohla Dargis placed it “among the best films to play at the festival in two decades.”

Beasts of the Southern Wild won’t hit U.S. screens until later this summer, but you can watch its predecessor on YouTube now (courtesy of Wholphin, the DVD magazine run by McSweeney’s). Like Beasts, the short, called “Glory at Sea,” concerns a southern Delta community endangered by a flood and focuses on a young girl who also serves as the film’s narrator. “Glory at Sea” concerns the aftermath of that flood, and a community’s Orpheus-like efforts to keep alive its old traditions and loved ones.

It’s a short film, but it’s epic in scope—and so was the production. According to the website of the production company, Court 13, the film was made over five months, with multiple stoppages due to running out of cash—and at least one run-in with the Coast Guard over the seaworthiness of the film’s makeshift vessel (which they assembled out of wreckage from Hurricane Katrina).“The final result (and that it saw light at all),” the site says, “is a testament to the generosity of thousands in New Orleans who came together and put their blood, sweat, and soul into it.”

Zeitlin has directed other (mostly animated) shorts, including the Jan Švankmajer-like senior thesis film “egg.” and the similarly stop-motion animated “The Origins of Electricity.” But, beyond the DIY aesthetic they share, “Glory at Sea” feels like something else entirely from those films. As Zeitlin told The New York Times after it played at South by Southwest but before it hit YouTube, “It’s about how we can respond to tragedy with love, and hope, and total insanity … And that emotion, I hope, translates universally.”

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