A Facilitator of Emergence-y’s
iCOM - Film and Vide Production & Postproduction Magazine (August, ‘99)
Eye On Indie by Marguerite Arnold
In an ongoing effort to help bring shape and cohesion to regional independent filmmakers, Eye on Indie will regularly feature news, tips and stories about the people who struggle to bring their visions to reality and lessons they have learned along the way. For those of you who are indie filmmakers, please contact me with production news, distribution updates and the like at (202) 547-6951 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Facilitator of Emergence-y’s
Even those on the fringes of the production scene in these parts know the name Natasha Reatig, even if they’ve never met her before. Chances are that those on the fringes know her better than the rest of us because that’s where she usually chooses to operate.
Despite her proclivities for the unusual, the innovative, and the deeply personal (i.e. her search for art with a capital A in a world, not to mention a business, that can be dismissive of such impulses), Natasha’s involvement in the support of indie film has had a deep and lasting impact on the regional scene that goes far beyond the young and upcoming filmmakers who’s work the Rosebud Film Festival recognizes.
For those of you who don’t know, Natasha Reatig is the embodiment of The Rosebud Awards (a co-founder technically, but also the one who’s kept it going for the past decade). Hers has been perhaps the most persistent voice of support for independent filmmakers regionally -- especially emerging ones. During the long, dark days of the early and mid 1990’s, especially in the aftermath of the Key and Biograph closures, the Rosebud Film Festival was really the only place that one could see the best of regional independent work. And Natasha is responsible for keeping it going, administering the process, giving confidence when its needed, and keeping the mission and vision of Rosebud on track.
I wanted to describe her as the mother of the nascent indie film scene regionally. “Oh no, don’t do that,” she said in a telephone interview from her Bethany beach house. “Maybe a nurturing force, I could accept that description.”
Besides the fact that I respect her for what she’s done, there is something else that has always drawn me to Natasha. Maybe its the fact that in a city of suits, she proudly dyes her hair purple or red as the mood takes her. She’s also one of the few people who isn’t a filmmaker who absolutely understands what drives those of us who make indie film our passion and hopefully one day, the profession that will pay the rent.
I also admire the fact that Natasha has put in so much work to create opportunities for people when she herself has no interest in making films. “My interest in filmmaking is supporting emergent talent,” Natasha said. “I have absolutely no interest in the commercial side of the business. I do what I do for the people who are struggling through the process.”
When I asked her why film, of all things, she replied that she sees her decade of support for this community as a natural outgrowth of her interest in all emerging art forms and those who create them, and her professional career as a civil servant.
It’s not the first time Natasha had done this kind of thing. When I was judging Rosebud entries this year, I read a few of the articles that have been written about her over the years, sprinkled around her Adams Morgan office. There are a couple of things people always seem to mention. The hair color is usually one of them. She’s also run salons (a la Gertrude Stein) at some of the best known hip hangouts in Adams Morgan. “I’m an events producer of underground emergence-ys,” she says. “In the ‘80’s I saw the talent and the energy of the indie music scene here and organized events at the 9:30 Club and the Fifth Column. In the ‘90’s that energy moved into film. That’s where the creative talent is these days.”
The Rosebud Film Festival was the culmination of her passion. Rosebud,until the creation of the PEER Awards (and Studio 650) was the only place for a long time that local indie filmmakers could see their work, meet each other, and send a message to the outside world that indeed, Talent did live and work in the region. “It’s important for filmmakers to feel that they are part of a creative community,” she said. “It’s not necessarily the first thing filmmakers realize they need, but its up there. No matter how successful an artist you become, you will never move beyond this need. Artists have a desire to create that cannot be redirected or dampened, but it helps to be around other creative energy to sustain your own vision and energy to get things done.”
Speaking of getting things done, there’s one Rosebud winner in particular that people are talking about these days. His name is Ed Sanchez, and even if you don’t know his name, chances are that if you’re moderately hip and even slightly connected to the regional production industry you know his movie -- The Blair Witch Project, which to date is probably the most successful indie film in these parts for probably the past decade. Shot in Maryland, (and processed at Colorlab) the film premiered at Sundance ‘99 and was picked up by Artisan Releasing (a national distributor specializing in horror films). By the time this article runs, the film will already have been released locally.
Ed’s also a Rosebud winner for his first film -- Gabriel’s Dream, which was awarded Rosebuds two years in a row (one as a work in progress, the other as a finished film.) “Rosebud provided an opportunity for Ed to show his work, and I’m proud we helped nurture that talent,” she said. “He took chances, continues to be innovative and unusual, and that’s what Rosebud is all about.” But she is convinced that the potential she saw in Ed is no different than the potential she has seen in many other filmmakers she’s showcased.
While Rosebud is perhaps what Natasha is best known for, she has also been instrumental in creating another film initiative that is also taking off. In her role with the Washington Film and Video Council, Natasha has been a driving force in the establishment of the PEER Awards, which recognize a broader spectrum of work than experimental filmmaking. The PEER Awards just celebrated their third year, have doubled entries and attendance every year (drawing over 300 people to the award ceremonies in June), and are well in position to fill the void for peer recognition in this region across a broad spectrum of production work.
Both Rosebud and the PEER Awards have done much to help the growth of creative production in the region by recognizing its existence, but Natasha is well aware that alot more work and support must exist to really ratchet the national profile of the regional production community to a higher (and deserved) level. “What we really need is the support of the business and economic development community here,” she said. “Filmmakers by themselves can only do so much. The development of a viable and nationally recognized production community here will help veryone. It’s an economic issue as much as it is an artistic one.”
To that end, she has been in the forefront of the growing community of production professionals working with the city to organize a coalition of industry voices and interests in bringing more awareness of the local production scene to those who need to be aware of it. “But I can’t do it all,” she is the first to admit. “The production community also needs to take personal responsibility for these issues.”
So what is needed now to build upon this work? “We need infrastructure (like a movie studio) to take us to the next level. That’s what worked in other emergent markets like Wilmington (North Carolina). We need to continue the buzz. We need to be united in our goals. We need a bigger staff at the film office. We’ve got the talent -- we just need it supported. People need recognition. People need to know that they are not just creating in a vacuum.”
Natasha’s role in creating that infrastructure is beyond question. Her own work in the film community, however, at least for the moment, is going to take a lower profile. She needs a break.
“I’m interested in the emergent art form,” she told me. “I think that the production scene here is gelling, and that’s the time when I like to move on.” To that end, she has finally announced her resignation fromRosebud this year. And stepped down from the presidency of WFVC.
So what’s she going to fill her time with? This summer, she’s taking a long overdue rest, traveling to France, and figuring out her next invention of self. “I’ve had a good time, but I want to see where the next ‘emergence - y’ calls.”
At the moment she’s “developed a passionate interest in pre Christian barbarian cultures (1000 BC to the year 1 AD ).” I can’t wait to see where that’s going to lead her.
And while I know I’m not the first or the last to tell her this, thanks Natasha, for the support, the encouragement, and the hard work on behalf of the production community here. We appreciate it, and many of us are working hard to see that that legacy will continue.