The Filmmakers: Natasha Kermani ’06 and Carly H. ’25
From directing sci-fi dramas to filming documentaries to working 16-hour days on bologna commercials, Natasha Kermani has done it all. A 2006 Emma Willard School alumna, Natasha was introduced to cinema at a young age through her parents who had individual passions in the entertainment industry, as well as her aunt, who stoked Natasha’s later fascination with enigmatic concepts like the future and sci-fi. She attended Emma all four years as both a day student and a boarder, which fluctuated due to her family relocations around New York State during this period. Natasha fondly remembers her high school years and advises those of us still living the experience to “just [be] in the moment and [try] not to think too much about stuff to come down the line because that stuff comes and it goes and it’s fine.” This little pearl of wisdom does well to preview who Natasha is and what she’s all about.
In just a few short hours, Natasha and I shared a genuine conversation filled with advice, humor, personal stories, and acknowledgement of the current composition of the film industry. Natasha’s down-to-earth personality is not outshone, but supported by her resilience and determination fostered through her beginning endeavors in the industry, which included many long hours, monotonous gigs, and her fair share of rejections.
From these early years after Emma and college, Natasha developed an ideal of going with the flow and even going as far as to say that “...change is good… It’s scary, and it’s really hard, but I think it is the only way to really process the experience of being in the universe.” This acceptance of inevitable growth is predominant in her films, such as Lucky and Imitation Girl, which hone in on women “standing on the precipice [of change] where things can go this way [or] they can go that way.”
As my interest in psychology can be compared to that of Natasha’s interest in the aforementioned topic of “change,” I couldn’t resist digging into the reasoning behind her continuous exploration of how humans “navigate those challenges.” So, I asked her: do you think your captivation can be attributed to how you’ve embraced change throughout your life? She agreed with this supposition and then extrapolated on it by asserting her deep-seated inquisition into the future and evolution, as well as stressing the importance of addressing change in the moment and being open-minded to uncomfortable newness.
When I couldn’t help but indulge my curiosity about the human mind once more, I wondered how one sculpts realistic characters in film who seem like they could get coffee with you in the morning or talk late into the night on a phone call, Natasha expertly responded with: “You are constantly trying to understand; pull apart, the condition of being a human being in this world and then put all those things back together in a way that you can then offer it to others. And others will see themselves and their reality reflected back at them…”
As I and many other high schoolers struggle to decide what they want their occupation to be, this piece of insight offered me a slice of clarity into what the film industry can provide for me. My thinking towards choosing a job has always been very short-sighted, in the reasoning that even though you may have many interests, you can only choose one to pursue. This has been a huge stressor for me, as I enjoy a lot of things, and even the slightest reminder that I have to pare my identity down leaves me with a sense of unease.
So, as you can imagine, when I heard this, I was shocked and a part of me released a long held breath. “... Acting, directing, psychology,” which are some of my passions, are infused into the roots of being a filmmaker. “It's all the study of human behavior, and so I think… being interested in how humans act and how we act around each other and why we do the things that we do, that is exactly what the industry can provide.”
While this would be an ideal job for me, there is still the issue of the hierarchy currently in place within the film industry. Natasha has experienced first hand this prevalent discrimination of minorities, especially with women and people of color (POC). “As a minority…you come into the industry with this idea of ‘oh well… Nine out of ten are men, so that means there's only one slot for me. So that means we’re all competing for one slot out of 10.’” As jobs in cinema have been dominated by privileged, rich, white men for as long as the first movie was conceived, it has been tough and sometimes even impossible to be a minority working in the field. And from this underlying knowledge of imminent injustice, a sense of competition was instilled into them.
However, as time progresses, more minorities are learning to say, “‘No, no. There’s ten slots. We are competing for ten. Ten out of ten.’” The reality of limited selection of minorities is unfortunately accurate and unfair, but the mindset they derived from this was more detrimental to their cause than anything else. But as “new voices bring new audiences and unique perspectives,” a sense of opportunity and understanding that minorities are just as good as non-minorities, and should be treated equally is creeping into the industry and becoming a fundamental ideology that will hopefully result in major changes.
A new wave of critics and their expectations for films are high, and because “great storytelling is great storytelling and that’s it,” “our tolerance for mediocrity is really quite low, and so I think that's why you see amazing people coming to the fore…”
Still, she explains, this isn’t an easy job. In a field of work so competitive and emotionally draining, Natasha remarks that “the answer [to navigating the industry] really is trying to dig deep and find[ing] those bonds with other minority players in the field.”
Now that Natasha Kermani has taught us that change is essential and a big change is coming for the film industry, I want to leave one last piece of advice from her to each high schoolers reading this who may be feeling as I do about the future:
“Give yourself time and don’t feel like you have to know exactly who you are… The only thing you have to do right now is just experience because if you don’t, you’re not going to have anything to say when you’re my age.”