By Anna Brüner
Natalia Leite is cool—really too cool for words. At 31-years-old, she has already been a part of her own production company, created her own web series, Be Here Nowish on Youtube, and recently has been taking her first feature film Bare (starring Dianna Agron and Paz de la Huerta) to film festivals all over the world. We got in touch with Natalia at the beginning of August and were totally starstruck. Our biggest lesson learned from her: be weird, be confident, and, “don’t ever stop.”
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a writer, director, [and] actress, originally from Sao Paulo, Brazil. But have been living in New York City, and sometimes LA, for the past 10 years. I come from a visual arts background, which has really influenced my style of filmmaking. I love filmmakers and artists that deal with surrealism [and] different realities.
[I] like David Lynch. He has such a great sense of humor and [a] dark surrealist approach. Tonally, I think my films take on a darker, sort of bizarre essence. [I’m] also a fan of the work of Andrea Arnold, who did Fish Tank and other amazing movies, because she really strives for authenticity and real human interactions—something I always strive to do. I love to direct real people and blend them in with professional actors. I also pull a lot from my observations from reality, and my own experiences and observations of humans—the absurdity of being alive at all.
What made you want to be a filmmaker?
I was such a movie lover as a kid. I would watch films and be so touched by [them]. Films influenced me to take risks, to find myself, and to understand my life and my relationships better. I just saw what a powerful art form it was and wanted to be a part of that. When I was young I would stage events in my bedroom, like with my toys, and photograph them. I was always trying to create my own reality and that has kind of been a theme in my movies too.
What has your experience been as a queer woman working in the film industry, particularly in L.A.?
Being pegged as queer is both a blessing and a curse, but mostly a blessing. It’s a blessing because you get to be automatically embedded [and] associated with a network of the most creative thinkers, artists, and souls who all want to work together and help each other. On the other hand, even though I am proud to be gay and proud to be a woman, it’s sometimes annoying to be segregated and categorized as such, rather than just labeled a filmmaker.
What advice would you offer younger queer, non-male artists—particularly filmmakers?
Dont wait for approval. Don't apologize. Don't compromise your vision. And if you love it, don't ever stop. Also, if someone ever questions your authority, even subtly, just because of your gender, sexuality, or age, stick it to them and prove them wrong.
Bare, and all my work in some form, is inspired by human relationships: the psychology of how people interact and why they do the things they do. I have a million psychology books in my home and love reading about and understanding humans. I’m also really drawn to themes around sexuality and alternate realities.
The hardest part about making a film is just making it. I mean, it's so hard to pull a production together. There are so many people, money, and a million elements involved to make it happen. So much can go wrong every moment, especially on low budget films. In the middle of it all it’s really important to stick to your original vision. Film has the potential to morph into a million different versions of itself—many of which may not be what you had in mind. So you have to trust your gut and not give up elemental parts of your vision.
What do you feel is the biggest responsibility of a filmmaker as a storyteller?
Film has the power to let people metamorphosize. It is a universal language. By showing other perspectives or telling other people's stories, it allows people to see the through line of humanity that exists through all cultures, time periods, etc. It is an empathy machine. Its use is as universal as having the power to change your perspective. I think a lot about how to tell stories that show our shared humanity.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently working on my second feature film, written by Leah McKendrick and starring Francesca Eastwood, called MFA, which is centered around rape crimes on college campuses. It's a thriller about an art student who taps into a source of creative inspiration after the accidental slaughter of her rapist. She becomes an anti-hero set out to avenge college girls whose attackers walked free. It's a super important and timely topic with the recent rape crimes in the media and documentaries like the Hunting Ground shedding light on the issue. [I’m] super excited about this new project!
When was the last time you felt scared?
It takes a lot to scare me. I get scared of Trump and Trump supporters. I get a little scared for the state of humanity every single day. But I try to use this all as fuel, and do something about it through my work.
When was the last time you felt in love?
Every second with my girlfriend, who is this amazing, inspiring and positive person. I feel in love everyday right now because I'm directing my next feature film. I’m so grateful to be able to do what I love. Even on the really hard days, when you’re dealing with diva actors and things not turning out as planned, I still go to set every morning feeling in love because I'm doing what makes me happy and telling the stories I think are meaningful.