This past year has proven the importance of fresh voices in the film industry, and producer Natalia Rivas perfectly embodies where cinema should be going next.
An agent assistant at the prestigious ICM Partners by day– as well as a member of the coveted Agent Trainee Program– Rivas works as a film producer by metaphorical night, seeking out social impact stories that inspire her.
Rivas grew up in Silicon Valley and originally found her way into film through a summer tech program at Stanford University that focused on editing software. She immediately was drawn instead to the production side of filmmaking and later was accepted into her “dream school,” NYU Tisch. “At Tisch, I originally came into the program wanting to be an editor, but found myself by second semester gravitating towards producing,” Rivas said.
Rivas graduated in 2017 with a Film/TV degree and a double minor in Producing and Business Entertainment at Stern. Her directorial debut, The Escape, dealt with domestic violence and was featured on ABC 7 with Sandy Kenyon.
Post-grad, Rivas was an associate producer for feature film Milkwater starring Molly Bernard and Robin De Jeusus, about a woman who decides to become a surrogate for an older gay man she meets at a bar. “The film’s writer-director [Morgan Ingari] spent a lot of time thinking about the complexities of having children in gay relationships, and she’s drawn to stories about complex women,” Rivas stated.
Similarly, Rivas is also inspired by strong female filmmakers, including Margot Robbie and Reese Witherspoon who both lead their own production companies. Rivas actually met Robbie while working at NEON during the release of Academy Award-winning film I, Tonya and counts the movie among her favorites in recent years alongside Call Me By Your Name and latest Best Picture winner Parasite.
“I’m often inspired by social impact films– ones that not only provide an entertainment experience or escapism, but are meant to be thought-provoking,” Rivas said.
The subtle meaning behind films that prompt conversations upon viewing is what Rivas defines as great filmmaking. HBO’s Watchmen is cited by Rivas as being a prime example of resonating entertainment, especially in this current political climate.
Rivas also looks to playwright Jeremy O. Harris as an inspiring voice. Harris co-wrote feature film Zola, which was a recent Sundance Film Festival standout. “I’m astounded by the interesting stories he’s bringing to the forefront,” Rivas said, referencing Harris’ acclaimed Broadway play “Slave Play” and Bushwick showcase “Black Exhibition.”
This past year, Rivas initiated NYU’s inaugural Social Impact Film Festival, in which she curated, programmed, and moderated. The festival showcased alumni short films that explored a series of important issues ranging from racism to mental health to immigration reform.
Rivas currently is working on two highly-anticipated projects: short film Barzakh and the genre-redefining feature film Third Date.
Barzakh imagines a dystopian future in which Arab refugees are being deported to Mars. “The story highlights socio-political anxiety, cultural identity, and privilege in our modern world with a dark, sci-fi twist,” Rivas described.
In contrast, Third Date tells a story of an abusive relationship through a horror lens. Rivas, who is lead producing the feature film, was drawn to the project due to its timely subject matter. “Third Date explores the realm of recent films like Get Out that utilize horror to deliver social messages via metaphor,” Rivas said.
While not pioneering landmark creative projects, Rivas unwinds by hiking and exploring the Brooklyn music and foodie scene. Yet she knows that her heart is forever with film.
“I want to focus on how we can use our medium of film to bring stories to the forefront,” Rivas said, focusing on her eye for talent and impactful relevant stories. “I want to push audiences to discover perspectives other than their own.”