Third Annual CNY Short Film Competition Winners

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The Innovation Group of CNY Arts, LLC, a subsidiary of CNY Arts, is pleased to announce the winners of the third annual CNY Short Film Competition.  Funding for the competition is provided by New York’s Empire State Development through a $4.8 million grant supporting the development and growth of a local film industry as part of an economic development initiative.

This competition serves as a workforce development incubator for the Central New York film industry, awarding four up-and-coming filmmakers $40,000 each to produce a short film here in the region. The program also connects to the robust number of film and media programs at colleges and universities throughout our region. Qualified candidates are required to: have graduated from a local college or university no more than ten years ago; attended an area college’s film program, or live in the region and have attended a film program elsewhere.  While applicants can be working in the film industry presently, they cannot have received more than $30,000 in screenwriting or directing credits in the last five years.

This year, the competition received seventy applicants entering the portal for their chance to transfer their story from script to screen. Qualified scripts were then stripped of identifying information including names and schools. These blind copies were made available to four film-industry professionals serving as panelists who spent more than a month reading and reviewing the scripts, selecting the eight best stories for the semi-finalist round. The selected semi-finalists submitted detailed budget proposals and production plans for the judges to review and select the four winners and a runner-up.

“This year’s applicant pool was extremely competitive, representing very broad and diverse artists moving into filmmaking,” says Stephen Butler, the Executive Director of CNY Arts and the Innovation Group of CNY Arts. “We had a large pool of talented applicants, making the panel’s task of selecting our four winners and a runner-up, extremely tough. It demonstrates the tremendous quality and talent that our area colleges and universities are sending out into the film industry.”

For the 2021-2022 cycle, the four winners are:

Hannah Gonzalez, “Dread Count.” Gonzalez is a senior at SUNY Oswego who will graduate in May with a Bachelor’s in Cinema and Screen Studies. She is an NYC native writer, director, and photographer with a passion for “coloring outside the lines.” She currently resides in Syracuse, N.Y. while working for the local PBS station. “Dread Count,” is a story about Josh Phentin, a college student who believes he is a ghost. While stalking his college campus draped in a blue sheet, he becomes obsessed with a girl named Lisa, who develops romantic feelings for Josh but is slightly threatened by his behavior.

Nate Hapke, “Good Grief.” Hapke is originally from Vestal, N.Y., and graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Television, Radio, and Film in 2014. He is working towards his dream of being a full-time feature filmmaker and currently lives in Los Angeles, C.A. “Good Grief” tells the funny, sad, and heartfelt story of Elle, an ambitious young woman coping with the sudden loss of her long term boyfriend Noah. After she picks up his ashes at the funeral home, the two go on one final date that culminates in a surprising conversation with Noah’s difficult mother, Marla.

John Licata, “The Cookbook.” Licata is a graduate of Syracuse University and Upstate Medical University, John is a screenwriter and physical therapist from Camillus, N.Y. He draws inspiration from his multicultural experiences as a medical professional to tell stories with metaphorical themes he’s passionate about, especially social injustice and responsibility. “The Cookbook” is about a character named Sarikh Kalil, who returns home to Central New York to reunite with his estranged father after he suffers a debilitating stroke. But when he discovers his father can no longer run the family Lebanese restaurant and a buyer is in hot pursuit, Sarikh must choose between taking over the restaurant himself or selling out to chase his own dream.

Will Limpert, “Method to Their Madness.” Limpert is a self-proclaimed, “315 till I die type of local Syracusan who has bled orange since the blizzard of ’93.” He graduated from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School in 2015 and has since worked on various film and television projects. He currently works for HBO as a production health coordinator, with an ambition to work in a writer’s room. “Method to Their Madness,” is a satire on working conditions of entry-level positions in the film industry and follows a production secretary working on a low-budget horror film who gets trapped in the apartment of the film’s method-acting antagonist.


The runner-up for this year’s competition is Ryan Micho. Micho is from Baldwinsville, N.Y., and is a senior at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School. He will graduate next month with a degree in television, radio, and film.

Each year the Innovation Group of CNY Arts recruits new panelists from across the nation to select the four winning productions that will receive funding, and one runner up in the event a winner can not meet the obligations of the program. Panelists are selected from diverse backgrounds in the film industry, each with broad experiences in movies and television. This year, the CNY Short Film competition panelists were, Jason Cicci, Jennifer Brofer, Pavani Srinivasan, and John Ginty.

Jason Cicci is an experienced actor, writer, producer, and teaching artist in the entertainment industry. He has worked in television, film, theater, and entertainment productions designed for online distribution. He is a native of Central New York and currently resides in Connecticut where he continues to work in the film industry.

Jennifer Brofer is a writer, producer, actress, and makeup artist living in Los Angels, California. Originally from Texas, she served ten years in the U.S. Marine Corps as a combat correspondent, during that time she attended the Military Visual Journalism program at Syracuse University. She now resides in Los Angeles where she is currently working in the entertainment industry. 

Pavani Srinivasan is a seasoned television producer based in the Washington D.C. area. She has worked as a writer, field producer, production consultant, and production coordinator for a wide variety of television programs. She graduated from SUNY Purchase in 2011 and continues to work in the television industry to this day.

John Ginty is a local Syracuse filmmaker and producer. He is the owner of Paragon Found Productions, specializing in music videos, commercials, and feature films. A graduate of Nottingham High School, John spent eight years in the U.S. Army as a signal support systems specialist. He is also the current President of the Syracuse International Film Festival.

Over the next two months, the winners will work with the Competition Director and Executive Producer, Joshua Adams. Adams is an Assistant Professor for Cinema and Screen Studies at SUNY Oswego. He has an extensive career in the entertainment industry as a writer and producer. He has also served as the Director of the SUNYWide Film Festival. Adams will help guide the up-and-coming filmmakers through the entire production process, offering guidance and mentorship along the way to ensure all four films reach the fullest of their potential.

Since 2019, the CNY Short Film Competition has produced eight short films, some of which have gone on to see success in film festivals around the world. One of the first year’s winners, Kathryn Ferentchak, has enjoyed international success of her short film “I Wish.” The film focused on a young man with Downs Syndrome and starred an actor Christopher Mikuni, who is also diagnosed with Downs Syndrome. Ferentchak has gone on to have multiple credits in television production and continues to make films as a writer and producer.

In the past, the productions have been featured at a free screening at the Everson Museum of Art as part of LightWork Urban Video Project’s annual showcase. The four winners this year will also be featured in a free, public screening and will include a question and answer session with the four filmmakers after the showcase. To stay up to date on the winners as they go through the production cycle, as well as for any future announcements, please check back to this website frequently.


About the Author:

Charlie is a former U.S. Marine who served as a Combat Cameraman and Communications Strategy & Operations Chief for more than fifteen years. He is originally from Asheville, N.C., but now calls Syracuse, N.Y. home. He studied Public Relations at the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University.
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