SXSW Filmmaker Hospitalized

SXSW filmmaker Benh Zeitlin recovering after a major car accident

One day at the festival, Rooftop Films founder Mark Rosenberg tells me all about Benh Zeitlin’s short film “Glory at Sea,” (partially funded through the Rooftop filmmakers’ fund), making sure I put it on my SXSW can’t-miss list; the next, he’s telling me that Benh and three others from the “Glory at Sea” crew had been in a terrible car accident on their way to the festival, and now Benh’s in surgery. It’s the sort of sudden turnaround one hopes never to happen at a film festival, potentially compounded by the fact that the 25-year-old filmmaker doesn’t have health insurance.

“We still don’t know exactly what the payment and insurance situation is going to be with the medical bills because it depends on the other driver’s coverage,” says Josh Penn, a producer on “Glory at Sea.” “They were at an intersection and they were hit from behind. The car was totaled. Benh’s hip was fractured in three places, and he dislocated his hip and fractured his pelvis. The day of the accident, he was in surgery to repair the fractures, but it’s unclear how long the recovery process will be. Probably a relatively long time.”

Rosenberg, Penn, and the “Glory at Sea” crew are of course moving to do what they can to help with the costs of Zeitlin’s treatment, depending on the financial prognosis. “We just don’t know the financial breakdown yet, because the details about the other driver’s insurance are sketchy, but we’ll probably have a fundraising drive soon, through Rooftop and SXSW and [my company] Core 13.” In the meantime, everybody wants to be sure that he doesn’t miss out on the festival while stuck in a hospital bed here in Austin. To that end, they’re trying to collect screeners of festival films that he can watch during his recovery, and they’ll have a guest book at screenings to collect comments and reactions to the film for Benh to read. Rosenberg and other filmmakers will be collecting DVD screeners at the Convention Center (right outside the screening room).

So far, the outpouring of support has been tremendous, according to Penn. “The festival has been really great to us, and people like Mark have really come forward to help out…Benh’s an extraordinarily resilient guy. He began this film in October ’06, and he just hasn’t stopped for the last 18 months. He just finished final touches on it last Tuesday. So considering the situation, he’s remained in really high spirits.”

The film itself is a visually intense journey through an American landscape, patterned after the myth of Orpheus, set in the aftermath of a great storm, and shot in post-Katrina New Orleans. “The myth logic is really interesting in the film…not exactly a new style of filmmaking, but a radical style, bringing together sort of pure, music-video-like visuals with more traditional narrative, creating this space where you as a viewer have to bring your own emotions in order to understand the myth,” says Rosenberg. “What you see onscreen is what’s really happening. When Benh brought the script to us for funding, he was really clear the one of the exciting things about it would be that when it says that there would be this crazy boat on a lake, it wouldn’t be an effect or cgi or anything; there’d really be this crazy boat on a lake. Sort of a Fitzcarraldo thing. Benh and his entire team have a way of really inspiring people, getting them involved and bringing them into network and collaborative effort. He’s created a community to make this film, and that community has really been there for him. “He’s remarkably cheered up by the support he’s gotten. He’s a remarkably tough guy.”

"Glory at Sea" screens in the Reel Shorts program on Friday, March 14, 2:30pm, at the Alamo Lamar.

E-mail Rosenberg at or Penn at for more information about how to help out.

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