Art Beat: Filmmaker Nathan Wright aims to spread empathy through his art

Wright: “Movies introduced me to this world that you can dive in and lose yourself. For those few hours nothing else matters, and by the end of it you’re back stuck in your own life.”


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Nathan Wright revels in escape, and the 21-year-old filmmaker produces stories that allow his audience to do just that. With his use of lights, colored deep blue and hazy purple, and his way of manipulating darkness itself, Wright’s short films offer viewers release into a far dreamier reality, a reality similar to the one he watched in his childhood.

“When I was young, escapism was very important to me because my parents were strict, so I spent a lot of time watching movies and reading books,” Wright said.

The art of cinematography grasped Wright at a young age.

“Movies introduced me to this world that you can dive in and lose yourself,” he said. “For those few hours nothing else matters, and by the end of it you’re back stuck in your own life. But for those two hours, you’re in this world that people built and put time and money into. They set the rules and you sit back and watch, and it’s this magical thing.”

Most of Wright’s films can be found on Vimeo, and he’s working on his first feature-length film this fall. Wright approaches film in a philosophical yet business-minded way. After starting school as an architecture major and failing his first class, he changed course and soon devoted himself to filmmaking. The pursuit of uncertainty often requires healthy delusion. Pressure from his parents and the urge to prove himself in a cut-throat industry drives much of Wright's’ passionate, and at times, reckless work ethic.

“When I’m really into a piece, the obsession is something that’s needed for anyone to make a great film,” he said. “I’m a filmmaker in the middle of Missouri. I can’t just make an okay film and think I’m gonna go to the east coast and tear it up.”

Anguish and intensity are much of where Wright draws inspiration for the visions of his work. Maybe I Wasn’t There is his upcoming 20-minute film surrounding a man’s mourning after the death of his girlfriend. The film became much more personal than Wright had initially intended, with his former lover playing the role of the girlfriend in the film, and implementing genuine experiences he’s had through scenes in the film.

“I really have to spend a huge amount of time to make sure that if I go somewhere else, I’m taken seriously,” Wright said. “I’m young and I can make mistakes, but at the same time it doesn’t really feel like it.”

Wright grappled with the specificity and eminently personal nature of Maybe I Wasn’t There. The piece was becoming too vulnerable with casting his former lover to effectively communicate a message to a broad audience, which Wright believes is the key to a hard-hitting film.

“It’s dangerous to make films about your own life that really reflects your life,” Wright said. “It’s an obsessive place. I wanted to get the film finished and just express my feelings for this person through the film. In real life, I was so connected to these moments I thought, ‘I have to fit this in somewhere,’ but what I was blind to before was putting this thing in the film was crippling it even though I was so attached to it. Now I’m going through the process of taking things out and making it a story that everybody can relate to instead of it being my personal, crazy experience.”

The elements of filmmaking, which include editing, shooting, sounds, lights, acting, etc., are by nature a manipulation of reality. Wright summarizes the art of film as lying in service of an ultimate truth and sees a higher purpose in entertainment.

“If you made a really good piece of art, people will come to you after a film and they’ll talk about how their life is reflected through the film,” Wright said. “They’ll give different instances and different situations, but the feeling is the same. My selfish goal is to have people understand my stories and create empathy where there wasn't empathy before.”

Exposing audiences to story lines through moving pictures forces the public into someone’s shoes for 90 minutes. The benefit of escape is compassion, and Wright finds great power in that.

“I’m just trying to make the world a better place in the end,” he said. “It’s an education. Educating people about something they did before just in a very artistic way because films stick with you more than most art.”

Through his fanciful use of lighting, deep primary tones and willingness to be vulnerable in his films, Wright is able to undress the guard of his audience with ease. With his goal being to “conquer” the Midwest with his art, Wright has big plans, and even though he can’t disclose much, reputable directors have been taking notice.

Experience being the root of empathy, Wright will continue living unapologetically and in return, tap into the universal truths the public will soon understand exiting the theatre after one of his films.

“Wherever I go, I just don’t want things to be easy because then I stop advancing as a filmmaker and as a human being,” Wright said. “Every time I’m in a terrible situation I get really good ideas for films, so some of my life is lived kind of recklessly. I’m not too careful because all those things give you more experience that you can contribute. It enables you to understand other people. I invite chaos in my life; it teaches me a lot sometimes. As long as I don’t die, I’ll be fine.”

Edited by Claire Colby |

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