Filmmaker Files Episode 8 - Featuring Natalia Iyudin / by Casey Kohlberg

Natalia Iyudin began making VHS films in black and white at the age of 15. After moving to New York City from Poland, she delved into television, working as a lead editor on shows for VH1, BET, MTV, and PBS. In 2018, her short sci-fi film, "The Garden" starring Sophia Lillis ("It", "Sharp Objects") was acquired by the Gunpowder & Sky's sci-fi platform DUST. Natalia's acclaimed short narratives have collectively screened over 30 festivals worldwide. From 2014 to 2018, Natalia lead development at a production company helmed by an Academy Award winner, Ross Kauffman, where she shepherded such projects as "Girly" with Rashida Jones, and Refinery 29. She wrote and directed branded content series for Toyota and, in 2017, wrote/directed an award-winning digital series "We Got You" featuring Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter of the Roots. In 2019, Natalia debuted on primetime television (the CW), with two episodes of "Two Sentence Horror Stories" from the creator Vera Miao, and Warner Bros' Stage 13: “Gentleman” starring Nicole Kang and Jim Parrack and “Scion” with Kate Jennings and Uly Schlesinger.

Natalia, photographed in the East Village, NYC.

Natalia, photographed in the East Village, NYC.

Describe a moment in your career you felt most brave. 

Natalia Iyudin: I think it’s every moment really. For every project I try to challenge myself with something new so I can grow as an artist. At times, fear-inducing anxiety is what drives me. Moving into television made me feel brave, because it was a big leap from what I was doing before, having worked in short narratives and branded content. I had to navigate the  relationships with our fantastic showrunner, the crew and the studio. Because of the fast pace, there were times I didn’t know until the last moment whether I was going to be able to meet a certain challenge. But I pushed myself to do my best. 

 In one’s artistic life, there are some really long seconds or moments that make us stop and listen. There may be an epiphany or a shift. Can you tell us about a recent one in your life?

 NI: There’s been a lot of changes in my life recently. Looking back at the whole year I can say that I had to rethink everything I thought I knew about my craft. As a result, I became more present, which was an incredibly useful skill on set. I think I understood that it really is about capturing a moment. Both within your frame, and in life.

Natalia in her Natural Habitat (Pun very much intended).

Natalia in her Natural Habitat (Pun very much intended).

What was the film that made you realize you wanted to be a filmmaker?

 NI: I think there are three titles that came at me around the same time when I was in high school. The first one was Jane Campion’s The Piano. I was struck by the vision, the acting, the mythical world she was able to achieve within the juxtaposition of nature and culture. There’s Blue, by Krzysztof Kieslowski, where he created this unforgettable psychological portrayal of the main character played by Juliette Binoche, supported by almost sensual imagery and an omni-present score. I remember thinking: Here’s this quintessential Polish filmmaker who’s also able to speak the universal language of cinema, and reach audiences across the globe. Finally, Dead Man by Jim Jarmusch -- both a hypnotic and whimsical cinematic experience. I love humor and I try to instill quirkiness and absurdity into what I write and direct as much as I can. Even though I can call myself a film junkie for the number of films I watch, I think the above films shaped me into the filmmaker I am today. 

What was a recent film, video, or series that you had a visceral response to?

 NI: I loved Lucrecia Martel’s Zama, which was one of the best films of 2018, in my opinion. David Robert Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake was a movie that I think was a little misunderstood by the critics, but I thought it was profound and fresh. I love Euphoria on HBO––it’s visually-stunning, and the characters carry this existential gravitas; the writing is really great. I love the show called Escape at Dannemora, directed by Ben Stiller for Showtime. Patricia Arquette, Benicio Del Toro and Paul Dano are mesmerizing. It also stars Jim Parrack whom I had the privilege of directing recently. His instincts are incredible.  

Natalia in on of her favorite places - Manhattan’s East River Park.

Natalia in on of her favorite places - Manhattan’s East River Park.

On the future. What is next for you?

 NI: I’m waiting to hear back about several different directing opportunities. Mainly in the genre in which I made my TV debut, which is horror and thriller. I’m developing two feature films.  I’m also working on a new project, and all I can say is that it’s a horror film that’s based in Slavic mythology. I often work with my husband, Dmitry whom I consider a strong storyteller, who challenges me in ways that I find surprising and inspiring. I really believe in the power of collaborations. I think, when well-matched, they can elevate a project ten-fold. And lastly, I also have a show optioned, which is based on a short of mine. I have been out there pitching a lot, and realized, I kind of really love it. That comes as a total surprise because outside of set, I’m rather shy.

What keeps you going?

 NI: I think I am someone who doesn’t believe in, so called, games, and I don’t really have an interest in playing them. Sometimes it’s a good thing and sometimes it’s a disadvantage. 

I would say that I’m in this for the love of craft. I am a fan of cinema and I hope I can keep doing it for as long as I’m around. I want people to really feel something when they see my work. And it’s okay if that something is purely instinctive, nonverbal. Ultimately, authenticity and connectedness are the two things that keep me going, both on a personal, and artistic level. I think, I look for them in every story that comes my way. And definitely when writing or directing a scene. I also believe that I am a work in progress, and growth is something I’m after. I’m not really in it for the starpower or fame. Of course I want to succeed so I can be involved in more projects I care about and not be denied opportunities, but I think I’m really in it to figure out what more I can be and what more I can do. I want the next project to be bigger and scarier than the previous one because I want to know what I’m capable of.

Natalia in the East Village, NYC

Natalia in the East Village, NYC

What is something the world needs now?

 NI: The world needs more realness. To me, it means being fearless and saying, this is who I am, take it or leave it. As always, the world needs more friendship, more brotherhood, sisterhood and more equality. It needs kindness. So many nationalistic voices have taken hold of societies around the world. Certain things are being said and manifested that would never have happened five years ago. I never imagined I was going to live through a period of time when hatred was going to be allowed to be freely declared in public space. Right now, especially, we need more love, more authenticity, more human to human connection, and we also really need to take care of our planet immediately. The political noise sort of steers us away from something we need to focus on with the utmost urgency: listening to the scientists and working to fix the climate.

Natalia meditating on her next project in the East River Park, Lower Manhattan.

Natalia meditating on her next project in the East River Park, Lower Manhattan.

What are 8 movie moments or quotes that you simply adore?

The ending in Kusama's "Destroyer". Her storytelling in this movie is something to truly aspire to.

When we first see Gypsy Rose in her interview chair in "Mommy Dead and Dearest" by Erin Lee Carr.

The introduction of the main character in Alice Rohrwacher's "Happy as Lazzaro". The acting in this film is classic and unexpected at the same time. 

Sex scenes in Catherine Breillat's "Fat Girl". This movie to me is a lesson in how effective storytelling can be when you radically filter it through your protagonist.

The dance scene in Liliana Cavani's "The Night Porter" .

In Agnieszka Holland's "Washington Square" the father-daughter confrontation, with jaw-dropping performances from Jennifer Jason Leigh and Albert Finney.

Lynne Ramsay's "You Were Never Really There" and the sequence brilliantly edited with the use of various angles from security cameras. She builds visceral suspense.

The last scene in my friend Agnieszka Smoczynska's movie "The Lure"  in one, brave, continuous shot, we witness the main character's decision to give up her life for love, as the sun slowly rises and she is turned into sea foam (as a mermaid would.)

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Interview by Casey Kohlberg
Photography by Rachel Kessler
Edited by Shruti Ganguly