Three of the four winners of the CNY Short Film Competition are SUNY Oswego graduates who will receive generous support to bring their film ideas to life.

Judges selected 2020 graduate Andrew Nimetz, 2018 alumnus Derrick Benton and 2016 alumna Victoria Diana to receive $40,000 each to take their selected scripts and, when deemed safe to produce, develop them into short films.

The CNY Short Film Competition is an arts-funded initiative by Empire State Development and sponsored by the CNY Arts/Innovation Group, said cinema and screen studies faculty member Joshua Adams, who also serves as the festival’s executive producer and filmmaking mentor.

The program was set up by another Oswego cinema and screen studies faculty member, Juliet Giglio, with her husband and screenwriting partner Keith Giglio. They brought on Adams and, once the program was established, stepped aside to let him take the reins.

“Last summer was our inaugural competition, and we had over 75 entries,” Adams said. “Four short films were successfully produced and are still currently being sent to film festivals. This year, due to COVID-19, our entries were fewer, but we still had close to 50 submissions.”

Entries are independently judged by professionals who live in California and New York City, and Adams said the number of SUNY Oswego winners reflects their stories' merit and how well the college prepared the young filmmakers for success.

“I truly believe that SUNY Oswego graduates are successful because of the preparation they receive while in school and that they are taught attention to detail, wonderful script-writing, and all the necessities of on-set film and video production,” Adams said. 

Oswego’s cinema and screen studies program generally gives students “a very good handle on pre-producing a screenplay and getting it ready to be filmed,” Adams added. “Our students have a very DIY mentality and we teach them to think cinematically, analytically and critically in all of their studies. Where we are short on mass equipment and money, our students use ingenuity and creativity to accomplish their filmmaking goals. It prepares them for the next step.”

Intriguing stories

The three Oswego alumni winners submitted very different, yet intriguing, entries in the form of a 15-page script.

Nimetz’s entry, titled “Dognapped,” brings together “Dee, an impulsive woman with a case of false bravado, and Robert, a mixed-up burglar,” Nimetz explained. 

“Both Dee and Robert are recently single and have had to find their own ways to deal with their strong emotion -- a path that ends with the two of them breaking into the same house,” Nimetz said. “‘Dognapped’ showcases the stories of those who are down on their luck and feel forced into their current situations. The story functions as an outlet; learning to move on, and realizing there is only forward.” 

Benton’s “Wasted Talent” takes on a more serious and timely topic, as “it depicts four young black teens in high school who are thrown into detention after a fight, and despite their differences the boys come together through their love for music and songwriting, but their newfound bond is brought to a tragic halt,” Benton said.

“We quickly jump into the world of these marginalized kids of color where we don’t know a lot about them, but we learn what we need to their philosophies on society, their self-image, their personalities and background,” said Benton, who noted the ongoing importance of letting black voices and perspectives be heard and seen. “At the heart of the story it’s about empathy; just taking the time out to understand one another.”

Diana’s “Devour is a drama following former lovers on different trajectories in “a chef who is about to close for the night at his struggling, once successful, restaurant, when an old flame shows up at his door,” Diana said. “She is now a rising actress, who traveled up to Syracuse from NYC, in search of a familiar comfort.” 

Two of her friends, Kristin Noriega and Kevin Miner, presented Diana with the concept and which she immediately found exciting. “I love food, and the relationships people have with it. I also wanted to explore nostalgia, and the rose-colored tint it gives our memories,” Diana said. “For ‘Devour,’ I challenged myself by writing a drama (my comfort zone is comedy); but for fun, I went dialogue-crazy.”

College preparation

Nimetz credited SUNY Oswego for laying the foundation of his film appreciation, and particularly credited Adams and fellow faculty members Amy Shore and Tiffany Deater.

“Professor Shore took a chance on me, allowing me to take her intro to cinema course before I was even within the major; Professor Adams taught me about professionalism behind the camera; and Professor Deater allowed me to unlock the more experimental and unique parts of myself and utilize them in storytelling,” Nimetz said. “I would also be nowhere right now if it weren't for all the friends and partners I've collaborated with throughout my years at SUNY Oswego.

For Benton, the program provided insights into theory and immersion in understanding the craft of writing films.

“My time studying under the cinema and screen studies department greatly contributed to this win,” Benton said. “Learning and understanding film theory and the history of cinema, along with the hours dedicated to screenwriting, taught me to think uniquely about the film as a medium and tell complex stories, and always keep characters at the heart of the film.”

Diana said she might not have found her passion without attending Oswego, where she changed majors before choosing broadcasting, where a “Writing for Television” elective made her realize she wanted to work in filmmaking. 

“The professors at Oswego are professionals who know what they're doing, and they gave me all the tools I needed to pursue this career,” Diana said. “I was also involved in the student-run television station WTOP, which gave me lots of fun hands-on experiences. My favorite part was writing comedy sketches for ‘We Go Live,’ a comedy sketch show a la ‘SNL.’”

While productions are on hold due to the pandemic, the pause gives the young filmmakers time to hone their scripts and plan how to maximize their budgets to bring the stories to life.

The competition was open to recent and prospective graduates of the film and media studies programs from any college or university within the CNY Short Film Competition service region. Eligible applicants must have graduated or between May 2010 and May 2020.

In addition to the $40,000 grant to professionally produce the short film, winners will receive production mentorship from local film professionals, access to regional industry resources and equipment, and guidance in developing a marketing strategy to promote and distribute the completed project on a national scale.