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Rooftop films “GLORY AT SEA” WINS SXSW WOLPHIN AWARD

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BLEEDING RUST: “GLORY AT SEA!” IN NEW ORLEANS
“Glory at Sea!” plays at SXSW in the Shorts 3 program on March 9, 11th and 14th, at the Alamo Lamar Cinemas.

In the guidelines to the Rooftop Filmmakers’ Fund–the grants that Rooftop offers to filmmakers whose work has screened with us–we say “We are more likely to fund films that make the most of their resources and community.” We don’t have the means to fund big-budget films, so we want to help support filmmakers who are clever and collaborative, and show that they uphold the collective ideals of Rooftop Films.

Last night, I was in New Orleans for the cast and crew screening of “Glory at Sea!,” a short film which Rooftop co-funded. The movie is based on the myth of Orpheus, and in this version a man who washes to sea aims to sail back to the underwater Hades that has taken his girlfriend. While he builds a raft, the community watches, and becomes interested, and finally rushes to his aid, carrying with them the busted and rusted icons of their lives–all that remains of their husbands and wives, children and parents–strapping to the boat trumpets and bathtubs, charred church crosses and unspooled mix tapes, in the Bayou-inspired voodoo-like belief that these talismans will lead them to their drowned loved ones. The rickety craft sets sail with a song (fitting for Orpheus and Orleans), and the crew finds salvation in sinking.

The film is an irrational fable, a rich and poetic impossibility, and it gains its power from its myth logic. In dream logic, you do something crazy and need to look at the subtext to understand why. But in myth logic, you do something crazy because you have the tenuous belief that it will help. “Glory at Sea!” captures that pathos perfectly: the filmmaking is stirred with music video madness as it strains at the conventions of traditional narrative filmmaking. The film invokes this need for a community to bond–not a logical need, based on survival or chances of success, but an inherent need which transcends logic and gets to the core of who we are as people, as neighbors, as people who need each other in life and in death. In post-Katrina New Orleans, where all everyone has left is water-soaked memories of missing persons, “Glory at Sea!” is the perfect parable.

The director Benh Zeitlin choked up when he welcomed the crowd, saying that “making this film was the greatest experience of my life, and it’s thanks to so many of the people in this room, who bled rust for this movie.”

There were 300 people there.

300 people in support of a short film!

They volunteered their time. They lent their own heartbreak to the telling. They literally risked their lives riding this home-made raft out onto Lake Pontchartrain. One guy, Jimmy Lee Moore, a local guy who was cast as an actor, ended up doing much of the complicated welding on the boat. I spoke to him after the premiere, and he was beaming with pride. He told me about how the Coast Guard didn’t think the craft was sea-worthy, and no one would take responsibility for towing it out onto the water. But they hooked it up a speedboat, and tore the tail off it in the process, because they had no other option, and for days on end the actors and crew were doing things no one in their right mind would do, all for this film. Now Jimmy wants to modify the boat and make it a Mardi Gras float, to represent the film, and New Orleans independent filmmakers, and the spirit of this project.

Benh was originally going to make this mythical film in Greece, but he told me that when he received funding from Rooftop–where the money comes from ticket sales and submission fees, the fans and filmmakers who make up our community–he knew he had to make a populist film, and that it had to be in New Orleans. Seeing not only the power of the film, but the glorious power of the community that made it, I can’t express how proud I am, on behalf of all of us at Rooftop Films, to have had a small part in such an inspiring project.