The Horizon Award was created to celebrate and provide mentorship opportunities for talented, up-and-coming female filmmakers. At the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, the inaugural Horizon Award was presented to Verónica Ortiz-Calderón.
Ortiz-Calderón, a Syracuse University student, recently spoke with CreativeFuture about her experiences at Sundance.
CreativeFuture: How did you learn you had won the inaugural Horizon Award, and what was your initial reaction?
Verónica Ortiz-Calderón: This happened on a Wednesday night, during my Virtual Reality Storytelling class. It was our first time trying out the VR headsets so we had gathered into groups that rotated around the room putting them on. At that moment, I thought to myself, “I’m gonna look really cool putting this on; I have to take a picture.” When I took out my phone I realized that I had four missed calls from someone in California. At this point, I have no idea why anyone from California would want to call me. Even though I had been awaiting an answer from the Horizon Award with bated breath, the possibility that they might be calling me to tell me I won didn’t even cross my mind.
-Is this Veronica?
-This is Cassian Elwes.
The next five minutes are kind of a blur. I remember denying it, screaming, laughing, and crying. My classmates and professors first looked concerned, and then they were just puzzled. I tried to get the words out of my mouth; I tried to explain to them what had just happened, but my pitch was two octaves higher and my words jumbled together. Somehow, they understood, and they also relished in the moment.
At this point I’m crying, which makes Cassian cry, and so we’re both just crying on the phone and he’s trying to give me important information, which I won’t remember because I’m so shocked. As I’m balled up on the floor in fetal position, I realize this is the best moment of my life – and it’s only just the beginning.
CreativeFuture: What were your expectations about Sundance?
Verónica Ortiz-Calderón: After the initial excitement of the announcement, I was actually really nervous.
The night before I left for Sundance, I lied down on the floor of a classroom while a group of friends tried to console me. “They’re not going to like me,” I said, “they’re going to think I’m weird and they’re going to realize they gave the award to the wrong person.”
“Just be yourself! Of course they’ll like you!” they replied, in the usual consoling-friend fashion.
But I was still nervous. I had no real experience, no great cinematic knowledge, and no connections. I had nothing that could even be remotely relatable to these people who had been molded by the industry I only dreamed of.
So, was it nerve-wracking? Yes, very much so. Every minute of every day, except when the lights went out in the theatre and I could just lose myself in a movie. It was nerve-wracking, but still incredibly rewarding. Nothing will beat the accomplished feeling of leaving a premiere party where, knowing almost no one, I got to talk to the director of the movie, meet the stars, get a job offer, and be called “spunky” by a producer.
CreativeFuture: Can you describe a mentoring experience that you had at Sundance?
Verónica Ortiz-Calderón: I had the honor of speaking to so many amazing people at Sundance, and everyone had so many fascinating stories to tell and advice to give that I actually started writing them all down on my phone. By doing this, I noticed that a resounding theme to all of the advice I was given during Sundance was to keep working and never give up.
One of the first people to encourage me was Antonio Quercia, DP for Knock Knock. After some necessary teasing for my Caribbean use of Spanish, he uttered the words that have grown to have great significance for me: “Always keep shooting.” And that’s exactly what I intend to do.
CreativeFuture: In your acceptance speech, you spoke about the confidence or affirmation that this award represents for you. How has winning the award changed your thoughts and dreams about your future?
Verónica Ortiz-Calderón: Before the Horizon Award, I had a paralyzing fear about the future. Thinking of my own inadequacies made it painstakingly hard to put myself out there for fear of failure. Winning the award has made me more confident, more sure of the things I want to create, and more willing to stop at nothing to bring a vision to life.
I still over-worry. I still get anxiety, but now it takes me one day (on average) to answer an email, instead of the usual two to three days. I’m counting it as a victory.
CreativeFuture: We live in a world where technology has allowed us to watch our favorite films and TV shows anytime, anywhere we want, but it has also created a culture of piracy. As a young person who has spent her life immersed in technology, how do you think we can teach young people to respect creators and access content responsibly?
Verónica Ortiz-Calderón: With the media world we have created, I think it would be impossible to completely eradicate piracy, but we could try to mitigate its usage. People pirate because they don’t understand the blood and tears that go into putting an image on a screen. If we humanize the people behind the cameras and try to dissipate this “sleazy Hollywood exec” idea that most people have in mind, we open up the doors for people to see the devastating effects that piracy has on real people.
On the other hand, a lot of people pirate simply because it’s easy to access. If we set out to make media more accessible to the consumer, I am certain that piracy rates would go down.
CreativeFuture: As the winner of the inaugural Horizon Award, how important is it for you to represent not only aspiring female filmmakers, but also aspiring Puerto Rican filmmakers?
Verónica Ortiz-Calderón: It’s shocking how women are underrepresented as filmmakers, and, of course, bringing a different gendered discourse into film is an essential endeavor and it is why outlets such as the Horizon Award are so important for female filmmakers.
However, for me, this is also about representing Puerto Ricans in a different light. In the age of Sofia Vergara, Latina women are often being relegated into novelty characters that lack any real value beyond their eccentricities. Being able to change this ideology through visual media is an arduous task, but it is definitely an honor. Furthermore, Puerto Rico has a vast talent pool of artists and filmmakers that’s being wasted due to the lack of local productions. Being able to foment the growth of locally produced content in Puerto Rico is one of the goals that I am working towards achieving.
CreativeFuture: Where is Verónica Ortiz-Calderón in 2020? What is she doing?
Verónica Ortiz-Calderón: Honestly, I can’t answer this question. I work hard and try to do what I love in the moment, but I can’t look into the future beyond what I’m having for breakfast tomorrow morning. I don’t like to set myself up for anything. That way I won’t ever be disappointed, but I also won’t set any limits to the possibilities the future holds.
Hopefully, I’m somewhere warm and doing something I love. That’s all we can ever hope for.
Here is an recent interview with Verónica from Telemundo Utah.
Y Ya No Te Gustas (And You Don’t Like Yourself Anymore) is now available on Vimeo.