By Kristin Reiber Harris
It is always a treat to be reminded of the expertise and talent of NYWIFT members, especially new members. The diverse range of interests and the storytelling that supports these interests is inspiring.
Join me in welcoming new member Natalie Cash, Executive Video Producer at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). I had the opportunity to interview Natalie during a brief and rare lull in her busy schedule.
What is your current position?
I am the Executive Video Producer at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), a global conservation organization founded as the New York Zoological Society in 1895. Today, WCS works to conserve the world’s largest wild places in 14 priority regions, home to more than 50% of the world’s biodiversity. WCS also runs four zoos and an aquarium here in New York City – the Bronx, Central Park, Prospect Park and Queens Zoos and the New York Aquarium on Coney Island – educating four million visitors each year about the importance of conservation.
I produce short-form programming about WCS projects for multiple platforms to advance conservation and understanding of our natural world, to advocate for stronger policy, and to raise funds in support of this work.
Give us a brief overview of your career in media.
I moved to New York after working as a Film Specialist with the New Orleans Film Commission. I knew to make my own films, I would probably need to relocate to Los Angeles or New York and fell truly, madly deeply in love with the Big Apple. Once I got here, I became drawn to documentary filmmaking and sold a short I directed to air on the Arte Channel in France and Germany. It was fiction but shot in the style of a doc.
Afterwards, I interned at WNET/Thirteen for the series American Masters and relished the research process – I got to work on the Leonard Bernstein episode which as a music lover, was an absolute thrill. The editor of the Lena Horne episode, Sak Costanzo, recommended me for a position at the Emmy Award-winning natural history production company Pangolin Pictures and I started there in 1997.
What were the first influences in your life that led you to becoming a producer? Specifically, an environmental/conservation producer?
I found truly amazing mentors in Pangolin Pictures founders Kevin Bachar, Jaime Bernanke, Lisa Samson and Whiz Iiames. We produced films for National Geographic, the Discovery Channel, Reader’s Digest and the WNET/Thirteen series Nature.
I’ve always been fascinated by wildlife, wild places, the environment, and with the alarming state of the planet today – from climate change to biodiversity loss to the global pandemic that has transformed our lives in just three years – I wanted to be a part of that conversation and connect with general audiences.
Describe your favorite project as a producer.
Usually my favorite project is whichever one I’ve just completed! But if I had to pick, it would be An Elephant’s Tale: The Matriarch, a short film I produced that looks at the poaching crisis through the eyes of a single elephant. I wrote the script in the back of a pickup truck while we were monitoring a herd of elephants in Kenya’s Laikipia Province. It was a magical experience and the words came so effortlessly. I love when that happens, when it feels more like transcribing than writing, and cherish it because it’s so rare and so pure.
We produced the film for our annual gala – that year WCS honored Hillary Clinton for her efforts to protect biodiversity in her role as President Obama’s Secretary of State. She accepted the award with her daughter Chelsea by her side, who was then pregnant with her own daughter!
If that film helped improve the life of even one elephant, it’s the fuel that pushes you to keep going.
What aspects of your job get you excited about going to work?
The part of my job that keeps me excited is knowing that every film we create is in service of conservation and the preservation of wildlife and wild places.
I love to travel but I also love that we are headquartered inside the Bronx Zoo, a 265-acre urban wilderness. It will celebrate its 125th anniversary next year and is such a special place. For many New Yorkers, it can be the only opportunity they will have to see these animals up close and as proud as I am of my films, nothing on-screen matches the sight and sound of having the animal in front of you. Each visit to any of the five parks is an act of conservation and education.
Senegalese forester Baba Dioum said it best 55 years ago in his remarks to the General Assembly of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” I do believe that, not just for the environment and animals, but anytime humans decide what has value.
If I am questioned about the value of zoos, I also quote Jane Goodall, “The really good ones have people who understand the animals. They’ve got lovely enclosures. They do a lot of education, especially for children. They put money into conservation programs in the field. They give veterinary training for people caring for animals in captivity around the world. The other thing is, people think out in the wild is utopia for animals. If they’d seen the places I’ve seen, where you hear the chain saws approaching while snares are catching chimps and others are being shot. Then you watch a group of chimps in a good zoo: two or three males grooming, two females lying in the sun, the babies playing. You think, let me put myself in the position of a chimp: I’d rather be in a zoo. People often don’t think from the point of view of the animal.”
What attracted you to NYWIFT and how might the organization serve you?
I was first introduced to NYWIFT by Nancy Rosenthal, founder of the New York WILD Film Festival. WCS is a founding sponsor of the festival which presents the best in wildlife, adventure, exploration, and conservation filmmaking at the Explorers Club each year and Nancy brought me to my first NYWIFT event – although because of the pandemic, it was virtual! As more events return in-person, I look forward to attending screenings, networking events, and joining the NYWIFT Writers Group.
How would you like to contribute to the NYWIFT community?
I hope that I can help to bring in a diverse perspective and diverse members – both female filmmakers from underrepresented communities, and underrepresented fields, such as wildlife filmmaking.
What do you see moving forward for the future of women as media makers?
I think the future is very bright as more and more women today hold positions of power and wield greater influence than when I started out 30 years ago. There are more opportunities, and the diversification of gatekeepers has resulted in more and better projects being made.
What else would you like the NYWIFT community to know about you?
I graduate this May with an MFA in Screenwriting for Television & Film so be on the lookout for fiction projects from me as well!
And watch more of her work below:
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