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Meet the Newest Winners of the Pond5 NYU Filmmaker-First Awards


Twice a year, the Pond5 Filmmaker-First Awards recognize exceptional film students at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts with grants toward the completion of their short-film projects. The program launched in the fall of 2018 with our inaugural winners, and now we’re back with the second round.

There are two awards granted in each category: Intermediate and Advanced. Intermediate winners receive $500 toward the cost of their projects, while Advanced winners receive $750 cash, plus $250 in Pond5 credit. There were tons of great submissions that we had the pleasure of reviewing, so we’d like to send a huge thank you out to all the talented students who applied. Read on to meet and learn more about the Spring 2019 grant winners, and stay tuned for info on when submissions will open for the fall!

Advanced Winners


Shalemar Coloma
Toni Dreams of Heaven

A lonely nanny unknowingly falls for a baby-eating go-go dancer whose insatiable hunger gets in
the way of their budding romance.

What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
When I was little, my parents would take me to the library once a week. Between me and my two sisters, we would borrow dozens of DVDs, which introduced me to so many different films that completely changed how I thought stories could be told. I always loved reading books, writing stories, and drawing, and at 13 years old, realized that film could combine all my interests. I also realized the lack of stories about people that we hardly ever get to see in film, especially in the American film industry. It inspired me even more to create so that my community could see themselves, and also audiences can really see something fresh and entirely new on screen.

Toni Dreams of Heaven Crowdfunding Video by Shalemar Coloma

How did you come up with the concept for this film?
While I’m excited to lean into the crazy concept and special effects, this project was always meant to be more than a surreal horror-comedy. Inspired by the Filipino women in my life that have been nannies, caretakers, and service workers, I want to create a film where these women have their own desires and are desired. Through Toni, the film hopes to show the parts of these women I grew up knowing: bold, bright, and SOOOO hilarious.

I also grew up hearing stories about Filipino monsters and creatures from my parents. Ever since I was a kid, I was fascinated with the manananggal — even making a documentary on the monster at 14 years old — and I learned that the myth was used by Spanish colonists to demonize indigenous women and queer folks. Because of this, I wanted to tell the story from the side of the “monster,” or the monster that these colonists created because they feared their freedom. So for me, it is important for Toni and Heaven to find each other. Usually seen and represented only for their labor or as something to fear, Toni and Heaven see the humanity in each other and together are free to be who they really are.

How will you use the Pond5 award toward your film?
We plan to use the award for the production design, so that Toni and Heaven can play in a wacky, alternative Brooklyn universe!

Ramiel Petros
Spirits From Baghdad

On their way to identify a childhood friends body, three young men take a road trip together through rural Iraq during the 1981 Iran/Iraq war.
What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
When I was in elementary school, I really loved to read. I would read every series of books that I could get my hands on. One of my favorites was Harry Potter, and seeing those films adapted really mesmerized me with the power of filmmaking. I loved the idea of taking something you can imagine in your head and seeing it on screen. Ever since, I have been enamored with storytelling through film and television, and haven’t considered anything else.

Spirits From Baghdad Crowdfunding Video by Ramiel Petros

How did you come up with the concept for this film?
This film is based on the true story of something that my father had to do when he was my age. Having heard this story, it always stuck with me. Looking at making this film, I got to understand some of the experiences that have shaped my father’s life growing up in Iraq, and the life he had before he came to the United States.

How will you be using the Pond5 award toward your film?
The grant will be extremely helpful in offsetting the costs of our film. From equipment rentals to food and lodging for the crew. We also plan to use the Pond5 credit to source music, and potentially even some b-roll and plates of middle eastern locations that we cannot recreate in the United States.

Intermediate Winners


Amelia Xanthe Boscov

A lovesick witch, Fern, tries to use a spell to make her crush fall in love with her, but things get complicated when her spell makes Amanda appear.
What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
I have always been drawn to storytelling and working creatively with other people. Early in life, this manifested as making my friends put on skits, then it turned into creating YouTube videos with them in our free time. As I began to discover who I was, I got frustrated with the lack of media representation. Where are the films where two women fall in love and get a happy ending? Where are the silly romcoms about gay people? This fueled me to get into film. I want to watch cute romance films with gay people, so I’ll have to make them myself.

How did you come up with the concept for this film?
I’m always trying to come up with ideas for fun, magical, romantic, gay stories. I just remember walking down the street, wanting to make a short with witches and romance, and saying out loud, “What if a witch tried to make herself the perfect boyfriend, but instead, a girlfriend appeared?” That was the starting point for “Witchypoo.” As we began to develop the idea, I realized we had created an opportunity to write a story that addressed internalized heteronormativity, through the lens of a romcom.

How will you be using the Pond5 award toward your film?
We’re going to use the Pond5 grant to help us with production design for the witchy, fantastical world of “Witchypoo.” It will help us afford props, dry ice, and costumes. I’m also hoping to use some of the award to submit the film to festivals.

Roni Polsgrove
Vicky’s Pet Retrieval

Vicky is a thirty-something, animal-loving, pet thief for hire who returns pets to their rightful owners. When Vicky is faced with a high-profile client with a messy relationship, she is forced to make a difficult decision.
What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
I have been writing stories since as early as I could speak (I would make my mom write them down for me). I started making videos in elementary school and worked my way up to being the queen bee of the sports broadcasting team at my high school. Now at NYU, I am inspired by so many of my classmates, professors, and friends as well as this huge, crazy city. Though, if I had to pinpoint the moment I wanted to become a filmmaker, it was probably when I was in seventh-grade Earth Science class. We had to do presentations about the Apollo 11 moon landing. I decided to do a video reenactment. I built a green screen and learned how to edit by searching YouTube tutorials. From then on, I was hooked.

How did you come up with the concept for this film?
There are dogs all over the city. It brings me so much joy to see dachshunds and golden retrievers and poodles and corgis and — well, you get it. I always used to joke with my friends about stealing the cutest dogs I find (I promise I would never actually steal a dog). On my walk to work one day last fall, passing a cute dog, I thought, what kind of person would actually steal a pet? From then on, I started to develop “Vicky’s Pet Retrieval.” Vicky would be a badass who steals pets from terrible ex-boyfriends and deliver them to their rightful owners. Vicky would run a pet portrait business that would stand as the front for her underground stealing operations. She will need to have some gadgets. She will also need to steal the cutest chihuahua in the Tri-State area. I have gone through almost 20 drafts, and I’ve gotten feedback from so many people since I first started writing. This story has been such an excruciating and fun process to really understand the flawed world of Vicky and her pet stealing business. I hope above all, this film makes people smile and laugh.

How will you be using the Pond5 award toward your film?
The Pond5 award will really help specifically with art and locations. We are creating “Vicky’s Pet Portraits,” a photography/art studio filled with art supplies and completed pet portraits. We will also need to gather a good amount of pet supplies to create the decoy chihuahua, as well as Vicky’s pet gadget arsenal. The grant will really help bring Vicky’s world to life!

To learn more about the Pond5 NYU Filmmaker-First Awards and keep track of when submissions reopen, click here.

Top image: Concept art from Toni Dreams of Heaven by Shalemar Coloma