Exclusive: Director Kantú Lentz on the Power of Women Through Visual Storytelling
Of all the artistic mediums, film is typically the one medium that causes the most visceral reaction in people.
Whether good or bad, whatever is being presented can help deepen someone's understanding of an event that they may not have been privy to previously.
This philosophy was something that director Kantú Lentz grew up with an acute understanding of, thanks largely in part to her mother who was a fierce and fearless photojournalist always in search of capturing the truth.
"I come from a family of photographers...and my mom is a photojournalist who photographed conflict in Peru in the 1980s and 90s," she tells People Chica. "She would photograph things very fast and under very dangerous situations."
It is not lost on Lentz the power that coming from a long line of strong women can have, especially when those women are given the platform to share their vision, much like the NBCU LAUNCH Female Forward program has provided Lentz.
"There's only so much that you can do on your own, right? Like, yes, I raised money for short films. I wrote them, I directed them—I hustle. But at the end of the day, you do need a studio, you'd need a network just to give you that shot. And that's what NBCU Female Forward does," she explains.
In an exclusive interview with People Chica, the Latina Chicago Fire director talks about the big impact that her mother and grandmother had on the way she approaches her work as well as the importance of truly loving what you do when it comes to film.
Just the fact that you're a Latina and a director is amazing because film typically is such a male dominant industry, more specifically directing. That must be so exciting for you?
It's an exciting time. I feel like change happens slowly over time, and I think we're seeing the change slowly happen [with] women in the industry that have put a lot of work into opening those doors that now, you know, each generation has a little bit of an easier way to walk through.
You've directed an episode for the NBC hit show, Chicago Fire, a show part of the Dick Wolf world that shares a cinematic universe with Chicago P.D., Chicago Med and the Law & Order franchise. What was it like working on the set of such a revered production?
It was incredibly exciting to get to work on a Dick Wolf show. I grew up watching a lot of Dick Wolf shows like Law and Order and I'm a huge fan of Chicago Fire. Without being too cheesy, it was a dream come true. I've been working in commercials, creating my own shorts and narrative, and working on my first feature. But getting to work on a Dick Wolf show is definitely one of my proudest moments, yet.
I do think that the Chicago franchise, in Chicago at least, did expand a lot of the film industry out there. Every morning when I would drive to set, I think one of the drivers that I was driving with was telling me that when he started out, there [were] not that many studios, and ever since all of the Dick Wolf shows started working there, it really expanded that industry.
You're part of the NBCU LAUNCH Female Forward program. What does it mean for you to be part of a program that focuses on supporting female directors?
I feel very proud to get to be a part of NBCU Female Forward, and I feel very lucky to get to do the thing that I love to do and that a program like NBCU Female Forward exists means that the step that I've been working towards became a reality. There's only so much that you can do on your own, right? Like, yes, I raised money for short films. I wrote them, I directed them—I hustle. But at the end of the day, you do need a studio, you'd need a network just to give you that shot. And that's what NBCU Female Forward does. It gives you that shot that you cannot [get] on your own.
In the past, actors and actresses have noted how the vibe on set is totally different when there is a female director at the helm. Do you feel that female directors bring a different perspective to a film?
I don't know that I fully see it like that. For example, I don't think that all men direct the same way I'm sure there [are] women that are not super warm on set. I think it is important that everyone should be allowed to fulfill the dream that they want, right? And it shouldn't be that if you want to be a filmmaker or a director or a writer or anything in the entertainment industry or any industry, your gender should not define how far you can go.
Each individual person should have the ability to fulfill their persona to its fullest right and to tell their stories in their own words. And I think the problem with the fact that we've had predominantly straight male storytelling, for the most part right now, is that we're getting a "type" of story. It doesn't mean that those stories aren't good, and it doesn't mean that they're not diverse, right? Because there are men that tell good stories that are not straight male stories.
I think it goes larger than just the film industry. We recognize the fact that our numbers are so low as female directors, and if you go into minorities, it's even worse. It's the fact that the world is not an equitable place quite yet. And by these small things, these small steps that we take as women, in all types of industries, we sort of move the needle a little bit forward for all-around [making it a] more equitable world in society, right? Everything affects the other thing.
You've acted and you've directed. What are some things you love about each?
Mhm, you know, I wasn't a great actor, I wasn't bad, but I wasn't great. I just felt like I would watch certain people and say, "Oh, that's a special thing." I noticed that I was able to recognize who was really good at something. And I wanted to bring those people in to work with me, so I would write for them. So for me, being in front of the camera is a nerve-wracking experience. I don't enjoy it, but I think it informs my directing in terms of [helping] it [not] feel foreign to me [when] talking to an actor as I put myself in that position. I've also studied it, so then my approach with every actor is different. I try to find out what school they come from—and I don't mean like a physical school. Are they someone that is internal to exterior? [Or] exterior to interior? Do they prefer metaphors? Do they prefer "what-ifs?"
The way I view it, whether it is on my personal projects or on a TV set where I'm a guest director, it's finding out [the] "what." How can I make this the best space for you to work in so that I can have a good thing. I want it to be a pleasant thing. I want it to be a pleasant space. I want people to have fun because it's a privilege to make movies and television. It's a fun thing. It should be fun, at least. [Part of] my job [is] making people feel safe, but also [doing] something good. People need to be at their best, and people are at their best when they have everything they need, when you create a space for them to do their best work.
The film and entertainment industry is littered with extraordinary talent. Who has been someone that has proven to be a big inspiration for you in terms of your work?
My mom. I come from a family of photographers. My grandmother was a portrait photographer and my mom is a photojournalist who photographed conflict in Peru in the 1980s and 90s. I'm self-taught. I didn't go to film school. I sort of transitioned into directing [due to] more of a need to tell stories than [me knowing] what the next step was.
I've realized that growing up in a house that was constantly filled with slides and negatives and photos that had been blown up to sort of be edited into sequences to tell a story and single images [influenced me]. She would photograph things very fast and under very dangerous situations. And that sort of taught me that in one image, you have to be able to put composition. Framing and the information needs to be in there, right? And so that's something that I'm constantly thinking about.
How can I be the most efficient with each shot? What is my composition? Why is the composition like that? What am I saying with my composition? And how am I telling this story? How can I explain things without words by placing people in a specific way, by using a different type of lens, by having them exit faster, sooner? So those are all the things that I'm thinking about [that] I learned from being around photorealistic images my whole life.
[My mother] was one of the few female photographers [and] photojournalists [at the time.] My grandmother was someone that did portraits, [and] she photographed people at their best or the way they wanted to remember. [But] a family portrait is not real, it's how you would like to remember this thing, right? And photojournalism is portraying something so that one can say it didn't happen. It's proof of an event, whether good or bad. I like the transition [of] three generations [of women], now [I] tell "lies" [for a living] in order to ideally tell a larger truth.
What's something you've learned about your journey through the film and entertainment industry that you can share with other women?
[It] would probably be something more specific to a creative field, which is [to] find your community. And by that, I don't mean just like other filmmakers, but find people that get your work and like your work and that you can feel confident to get notes from them. It's finding your community that you trust and that understands your work because there's going to be a lot of voices that give you a lot of advice or a lot of notes. This is outside of television directing because in a work-for-hire, it's a little bit different.
I think it's important to know what your voice [is] and find that community that gets that so that when you are in a pickle, and you don't understand why something isn't working and you're like, "This is not quite hitting," that you have a group of people, of artists, of other directors, writers that can help you get there because sometimes you need to take a little step back.
Even in an episode of television, that group can be helpful if you're trying to find a good cut [or] a good edit in something. So I would say find a community of like-minded people because it is a career that is a freelance career in a way. It's lonely, and I think it is important to share war stories and know that other people are going through the same things as you because that is something that will keep you going and that won't let you sort of stop when things get a little hard.
You have to really want to do it because it's not an easy career. So if you have a Plan B, do the Plan B. If you're like, "No, I could also do this," you should go do that because it's a [career with a] lot of ups and downs and ultimately you have to really want it in order for it to be worth it. Because there's going to be more lows and there's going to be highs.