When Outfest LA 2021 spotlight artist Natalie Jasmine Harris turned 17 she was invited to take part in a cotillion ball, just as her mother and grandmother had been before her, but she decided to break with tradition and declined. At that time she was secretly struggling with her queer identity while attending a conservative boarding school and thought that being a debutante “would be just another lie. I was exhausted from performing an inauthentic version of myself to the world”, shares the filmmaker. This situation inspired the premise of her NYU thesis film, the 2020 DGA Student Film Award-winning, Pure which plays Outfest on Friday August 20th at 9:45pm as part of the Girls Shorts program, and screens virtually August 21st – 23rd.
“A lot of my own personal journey, insecurities, identity, and even poetry are ingrained in the film”, says Harris. “By reimagining my story, I hope to make at least one person feel less alone. For young Black queer girls in particular, I want them to know that their stories matter and believe that self-love and joy are possible to find.”
Pure, which Harris is currently developing into a feature, was included in April’s Outfest Fusion lineup alongside Harris’ experimental visual poem, The Small Things, which won Harris the Hyundai Emerging Director Award in the festival’s One Minute Movie contest with the theme of manifesting joy.
Harris sees her passion for film as being aligned with her commitment to social justice. While still at high school she documented the Black Lives Matter protests she attended in Washington DC, posting the footage online. “Knowing that my films could be a part of larger conversations ignited my love for filmmaking and keeps inspiring me to tell stories today”, says Harris.
The experience of watching Dee Rees’ Pariah as a teenager proved hugely impactful to Harris. “It was the first time that I felt remotely seen”, she recalls. She also cites the work of Barry Jenkins among her creative inspirations. “There’s something exceptionally beautiful about how he uses the camera to bring humanity to characters that the world doesn’t often see as being vulnerable or worthy of care. A lot of the intimate moments in Pure came from a desire to bring humanity and tenderness to Black queer identity and love as Jenkins does in Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk.”
Harris is already supporting various projects as a producer and says that her ambition is to help “more queer folks of color access the funding and resources they need to tell their stories” and ultimately “to see those of us who have historically been excluded from the film industry rise together.”
By James Kleinmann
Natalie Jasmine Harris’ Pure plays in the Girls Shorts program at Outfest LA 2021 on Friday August 20th at 9:45pm and screens virtually August 21st – 23rd 2021.