TRF junior wins prestigious award for aspiring female filmmakers, earns trip to Sundance with top producers

By Whitney Marin

February 24, 2015

Veronica Ortiz-Calderon's short film beat more than 400 submissions


Newhouse junior Veronica Ortiz-Calderon beat out more than 400 submissions worldwide to win the first-ever Horizon Award, which recognizes emerging female filmmaking talent. Ortiz-Calderon’s short film, “Y Ya No Te Gustas (And You Don’t Like Yourself Anymore),” won her a $10,000 tuition scholarship, a trip to the Sundance Film Festival and the chance to be mentored by three film experts.

The Horizon Award was created to provide a mentorship opportunity for young female directors. Women in Film, The Creative Mind Group, Vimeo, Twitter, The Black List and CreativeFuture sponsored the contest.

“I mean, I couldn’t believe it,” says Ortiz-Calderon, a television, radio and film major at Newhouse. “I saw that I had four missed calls from Beverly Hills while I was in my virtual reality class and I thought, ‘who could be calling me from Beverly Hills? I don’t know anyone there.’ I called (producer Cassian Elwes) back and he explained how much he loved my film and my story. I was sobbing, we were both sobbing. It’s still hard to believe that I won.”

Newhouse junior Veronica Ortiz-Calderon (center) with journalist Sharon Waxman and producer Cassian Elwes

As part of her prize, Ortiz-Calderon will receive mentoring advice from the award’s founders and producers: Lynette Howell, Christine Vachon and Elwes. Their producing credits include films such as “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Still Alice,”  “Blue Valentine,” “Big Eyes,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and “The Butler.”

Attending the Sundance Film Festival in Utah at the end of January was a whirlwind experience, Ortiz-Calderon says. Especially since her first time there was as an honored guest.

“I almost didn’t apply to the Horizon Award,” she says. “I submitted it the day of the deadline because I put it off. I thought I wasn’t going to be good enough and I wasn’t going to get it. I had internalized that so much, that I wasn’t good enough, that it almost cost me this amazing experience. ”

Ortiz-Calderon’s film draws from her recent experiences with depression and anxiety.

“I was paranoid, I wasn’t sleeping,” she says. “It was a very scary situation and I thought I would deal with it the only way I knew how, which was telling a story about it. It allowed me to gain agency over that feeling instead of having that feeling control me and I wanted to evoke an emotional response in the viewer that mirrored my own experiences.”

Ortiz-Calderon, who is originally from Puerto Rico, wrote the script in Spanish, shot the scenes and then recorded the voiceover. The two-minute film, available on Vimeo, also has English subtitles.

The Newhouse junior originally came to Syracuse University as a modern languages major. She switched to TRF and says she loves the way cinema combines her love of storytelling, writing and photography. Her experience at Sundance included shadowing each producer for a day and they helped break down the process of how movies are made in Hollywood and independently.

She also made many valuable networking connections.

“Everyone I talked to when I was at Sundance said ‘We want to help you in the future. The next film that you make, we want to see it, we want to finance it,’ “ she says.

One of the most memorable experiences from Sundance, she says, was when Elwes said he wanted to call her mom and thank her.

“My mom doesn’t speak English so I had to put it on speaker and translate. As I was translating, he said the most beautiful words about me and my work,” she says. “He said he would be honored to work with me in the future. I had to process that because I had to translate it to my mom and at that exact moment, I realized the magnitude of winning this award. It just hit me like a pile of bricks. I was extremely grateful and completely overwhelmed.”

The fruits of her win will continue for some time, as Ortiz-Calderon’s film will be screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May. The Renee Crown University Honors Program at SU also awarded her $4,000 in funding to work on her capstone film during the summer in her hometown of Caguas, Puerto Rico.

Her dream is to eventually work in independent cinema, writing and directing her own films. She hopes to become an established cinematic artist in the United States and then boost the film industry in Puerto Rico. This award has energized her aspirations.  

“The biggest awards were the connections to these amazing, beautiful human beings that have opened their hearts to the problem that there are not enough women in film,” she says. “They told me that they believe in me and my vision.”

Whitney Marin is a television, radio and film and public policy dual major at the Newhouse School and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.