Meet Natalie Kingston

The New Orleans-based cinematographer on film’s ability to foster empathy, her feature, Lost Bayou, and how to spend the perfect day in her home city

Interview By Jaclyn Bethany
images courtesy of Natalie Kingston 

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Jaclyn Bethany: Hi, Natalie! Where are you originally from, and where are you now based?
Natalie Kingston: I was born and raised in a small, southern, Louisiana town called New Iberia. I live in New Orleans now and do work a lot in Louisiana, but travel often for projects.

JB: How did you first discover filmmaking? Do you recall your first cinematic memory?
NK: I didn’t watch many movies as a child, but the idea of telling stories with moving images began when I was around 10 years old and got my hands on my parents’ VHS camcorder. I was really fascinated with that thing and was constantly making these little movies with my sister and cousins. I remember being so proud of my film, “The Night in the Spooky Mansion,” which I adapted from a children’s stage play I found at the library. I started to see the power in intentionally choosing the images I filmed and how they shaped the story. For example, I shot the exterior of my dream house location to which I didn’t have access, and cheated the interior of my grandma’s house. 

JB: There’s something distinctly Southern, raw, and poetic that runs throughout your work––like you can feel the air. Are most of the stories you have shot Southern-set, and how does the landscape inform them?
NK: Yes, a lot of my work has been set in the South. There is definitely a rawness here—especially in NOLA. I’m perpetually inspired by my environment and culture, and it undoubtedly informs my work.

 Still from  Lost Bayou

Still from Lost Bayou

There is definitely a rawness here—especially in NOLA. I’m perpetually inspired by my environment and culture, and it undoubtedly informs my work.

JB: Tell me about your feature, Lost Bayou
NK: Lost Bayou is a film that I shot at the beginning of this year; it’s in post-production right now. It’s about a drug-addicted daughter and her grieving father who reconnect on a houseboat in the swamps of Louisiana. We shot in the Atchafalaya Basin near Henderson, Louisiana.

JB: Do you have a favorite film set in the South? 
NK: It’s hard to pick just one! I love Beasts of the Southern Wild, Mud, Winter’s Bone, and Hustle and Flow.

JB: There remains a surprising lack of female cinematographers, particularly ones who hail from smaller communities, such as the Deep South. This year, though, Rachel Morrison made history when she became the first woman to be nominated for the Academy Award in the medium, for her work on Mudbound. How do you think this is changing, and where do you see yourself in the conversation?
NK: I do feel pretty unique as a woman cinematographer, especially from the South. In some ways, I think it has helped me stand out. With all of the women’s movements happening right now across the industry, change is definitely happening. We can’t be so naive as to think it’s going to happen overnight, but steps are being taken toward equal gender representation in all aspects of filmmaking. The more women pursue careers as cinematographers, the more women will become inspired to believe that it’s possible. We just have to keep pushing forward and empower one another.

JB: What kinds of stories do you most urgently want to tell?
NK: At the core of it, I’m really drawn to character-driven stories that explore the various complex aspects of the human condition. I think being human is one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences and incredibly interesting to examine. I’m naturally an empathetic person, so I feel deeply connected when I get to help evoke empathy from viewers toward a character on screen. Film is arguably the most powerful medium with the potential to create empathy, and I feel a responsibility as a filmmaker to help inspire that.

  Still from Boots No. 7: Ready to Speak Up

Still from Boots No. 7: Ready to Speak Up

JB: What do you look for in collaborators? 
NK: I like to work with directors who have uniquely interesting perspectives on the world. I love collaborating with those who are bold and aren’t afraid to take risks. I’m really inspired when a director challenges me and pushes me out of my comfort zone, because that ultimately makes me a better artist. I like working with those who fight for the cause and aren’t willing to back down if something isn’t the best it can be.

JB: What artists have inspired your work? 

NK: Painters: Andrew Wyeth, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Vermeer

Photographers: William Eggleston, Gordon Parks, Alex Webb, Robert Frank

Cinematographers: Harris Savides, Conrad Hall, Bradford Young, Gordon Willis

Musicians: Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Edith Piaf, John Coltrane

Ed Note: Read our interview with Harris Savides’ daughter, Sophie, an emerging filmmaker herself, here.

I like working with those who fight for the cause and aren’t willing to back down if something isn’t the best it can be.

JB: Tell me about a woman in your life who has served as an inspiration to you. 
NK: I’m extremely fortunate to have so many women in my life who inspire me, but if I had to pick one, it would be my mom. She has always believed in me and encouraged me to pursue my dreams. She’s so strong and is not afraid to be bold. When she puts her mind to something, she doesn’t stop until she accomplishes what she set out to do. She’s so wise and is a woman of her word and the most compassionate person I know. I will always look up to her.

JB: It's a warm, steamy summer day in New Orleans. Where are a few spots you would you take someone who’s new to the city? 
NK: I’d start with breakfast at Cake Cafe, Pandora for a snowball, ride the streetcar, music on Frenchmen St., oysters at Drago’s, drinks at Mimi’s in the Marigny, jazz/dinner/wine at Bacchanal, dinner at Herbsaint, and music at Music Box Village.

JB: What’s next for you this year? 
NK: I’m working on a project with two of my favorite collaborators—director Samantha Aldana and actress Teri Wyble. We’re developing a short experimental film called Man-Made, which explores the societal expectations of femininity and beauty through diverse perspectives. I’m also in the process of reading some feature scripts. Hopefully, I’ll get to shoot one or two more this year! ★

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.