Court 13 is a grassroots, independent filmmaking army – a collective of madcap artists and animators of junk that seek to tell huge stories out of small parts. Tales spring from groups of real people on the margins, and adaptation to screen demands that we live the extremes of the story, not just tell about them. Court 13 values “do it yourself” not as a matter of financial circumstance but as a spiritual requirement; each film poses huge, painstaking challenges that defy the gods, nature, and just plain common sense. But hopefully from the wreckage comes treasure–a movie for the masses, borne of love and pain, that makes you feel like a kid again. We make films about communities, as a community. We listen to Sam Cooke, can beat you in racquetball, and beast on Sriracha sauce by the gallon. Our captain is Jimmy Lee Moore, and our newest officer is a pig named Hushpuppy. And New Orleans is our home.
Court 13 was born in defiance of academic regulations, fire codes, and health laws. The army was originally assembled on the set of Benjamin Harold Zeitlin’s senior thesis film, an 8 minute combination stop motion / live action movie called “egg.” A re-telling of Moby Dick that takes place on the restless waves inside a bird-child’s stomach, “egg” brought together many for the common purpose of feeding conveyor belt cafeteria food to sweaty actors in bird make-up, and forcing a mouse into poor Sara Bremen’s mouth. Benh joined forces with Ray Tintori, then a sophomore, on the stop motion clay-mation, spending days on end animating meat tongues and affixing eyeballs, for mere seconds of footage. When the fire marshall beheld the scene in Benh’s basement on Vine Street, he declared it the worst fire hazard he’d ever seen. The production, and spirit, moved to an abandoned squash court – the titular Court 13.
Benh graduated but the resolve of the Court did not. They gathered and multiplied for Ray’s short film “Jettison Your Loved Ones” which imagines Court friend Max Goldblatt as a man addicted to pressing the Restart button on his life. Boxing, choir music, and The Future play an integral role. During Ray’s senior year, we collaborated on another, epic, all-consuming thesis film in name only, about the tale of Tin Woodsmen of Oz, called “Death to the Tinman.” For it we constructed (and crashed) a to-scale flying machine, created a giant (Robo)copper suit for the Tin Man, and coaxed a maniacal performance out of Ray’s high school English teacher.
Meanwhile, in the menagerie of liberal arts post-grads known as Brooklyn, Benh continued to make movies in his basement–specifically, “The Origins of Electricity,” about… well, a movie in a basement, that horrifies every light bulb that sneaks downstairs to watch it. To make ends meet, Benh taught some of the Isle of Manahattoes’ youngsters how to make cinema at an after school program at the Grace Church School; and so came “I Get Wet,” a parable about popularity and atonement.
In the fall of 2006, after an ill-fated (but much enjoyed) summer attempting to make a documentary about a baseball team in Lithuania, the Court found roots in New Orleans, where amongst hurricane ruins Benh and Ray conceived the story of “Glory at Sea.” The Crescent City’s spirit of revelry in the face of destruction fit the Court mantra like a dirty old glove, and the group infused the movie with real characters, stories, objects, and places from Katrina-torn New Orleans. Casting was largely done out of a neighborhood bar called Buffa’s, and the infamous boat and its memorial cargo were cobbled together out of scraps found in discarded curbside heaps. Just as the junk raft set sail in the movie, so did it on Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans — but only after many trials, and even more errors. (A direct quote from the Coast Guard: “This is not a boat, this is the least seaworthy vessel I’ve ever seen floating.”) What was supposed to be a 7 minute, $7000 movie ended up eclipsing 5 months in production, 3 work stoppages due to lack of money, and a 25 minute run time. The final result (and that it saw light at all) is a testament to the generosity of thousands in New Orleans who came together and put their blood, sweat, and soul into it. The finished film premiered at the Prytania Theatre in New Orleans in March 2008, to the relief and great joy of all involved. “Glory at Sea” went on to play around the world, and scoop up a few awards on the way.
After “Glory” had wrapped, the Court reconfigured and rebuilt itself for a series of music videos that Ray’ directed for Chairlift and MGMT among others, including “Time to Pretend”, “Electric Feel”, and most notoriously, “Kids”, filmed at Court headquarters in New Orleans. The latter (and this picture) led to many unfortunate and unfounded rumors that Mr. Tintori scares children, but it also grabbed the attention and support of cinematic stepfather Spike Jonze, who as a result will be helping Ray develop projects for the near future.
As for the rest of the crew, we’re still here in New Orleans, having worked on and currently working on Benh’s first feature film, and having started a parallel Court 13 Acting/Moviemaking School for area kids, founded on the Grace Church experience. From it came three short, “I Get Wet”-like films that premiered this summer: “Scaredy Cat Superheroes”, “Detention = Doom”, and “The Big Hide-and-Go-Seek.”
The feature, “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” is a huge story about the end of the world as seen from a sinking bayou village on the southern edge of the country, where everyone laughs in the face of certain doom. It’s an alumnus of the Sundance Screenwriting, Directing, and Producing Labs, where the Court has received generous counsel from the high priests of the independent film world. Both the movie and its making have proven to be an adventure where life and limb are risked for the sake of community, culture, and everlasting glory.