Meet the 2021 AFS Grant for Short Films Recipients

2021 AFS Grant for Shorts recipients:

1: Déjà Cresencia Berhardt, Edwin Oliva, Katy McCarthy
Megan “Megz” Trufant Tillman, Sharon Arteaga, Tay Mansmann
3: Paloma Martinez, Abby Ellis, Iris Diaz, Alejandra Aragón

This week, AFS announces the recipients of the 2021 AFS Grant for Short Films. Eight projects by ten director applicants were selected for awards: seven narrative shorts and one documentary short were selected from 125 applicants. Seven of the ten directors will be receiving grants from AFS for the first time. Read on below to find out more about all of the filmmakers and their short films.

Central to our filmmaker support programs, the AFS Grant provides vital resources to Texas independent filmmakers, creating life-changing opportunities for artists from diverse backgrounds that are traditionally underrepresented in the film industry and who are working outside of large coastal centers. AFS Grant selections are made by a panel of industry experts who reside outside of the state of Texas and are integral in selecting exciting new talent. Participants in this year’s panel process included José Rodriguez, programmer at Tribeca, Amanda McBaine, documentary filmmaker and producer (BOYS STATE, MAYOR PETE, THE OVERNIGHTERS), and Cecilia Mejia, producer (YELLOW ROSE, CALL HER GANDA, and LINGUA FRANCA).

Of this year’s short film projects, Cecilia Mejia said, “It was really incredible to see the depth of stories and content that came through. It was difficult to really narrow down the list because there was so much talent and everyone deserved to be recognized in some way. I’m inspired by these storytellers and really in awe of how supportive AFS is of independent film.”


Directed by Edwin Oliva

A senior at The University of Texas at Austin studying filmmaking, Edwin Oliva has a passion for visual storytelling with a soft spot for older cheesy B-movies and sci-fi flicks. In his spare time, he produces various short-films for his Youtube channel ‘SA Movie Geeks,’ including a recent documentary short that examined how a local theater in Yoakum, Texas, was being impacted by the pandemic in 2020. The short film was spread throughout the town via social media garnering popularity. Oliva is the recipient of the 2021 Harrison McClure Endowed Film Fund, which awards cash funds to one undergraduate student project as a part of the AFS Grant for short films. Funds from this year’s grant will help him complete his new narrative short film, A HAUNTING ACROSS THE GALAXY, the story of Arkie, an alien archeologist, on a quest to retrieve a living souvenir from Earth but has trouble capturing an uncooperative ghost.


Directed by Paloma Martinez and Abby Ellis

Paloma Martinez and Abby Ellis are the co-directors behind this new documentary short centered around the tragic story of 26-year-old Jovany Mercado, who was shot and killed during a mental health crisis on his own driveway by Ogden, Utah police. Reeling from the pain of his son’s death and fearing for the safety of his remaining family, Juan, Jovany’s father, turns their home into a digital fortress against the police. Martinez and Ellis are both established documentary filmmakers with award-winning projects and THE FEAR THEY LEFT is their first documentary project together.

Paloma Martinez is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and educator from Houston. She first picked up a camera as a labor organizer in Texas where she worked to improve working conditions for corporate office janitors. Her short documentaries, ENFORCEMENT HOURS, CRISANTO STREET, and THE SHIFT have been distributed in The New York Times Op-Docs, The Guardian, and The Atlantic and screened at top festivals including SXSW and AFI Docs.

Abby Ellis is an award-winning journalist, documentary producer, director and editor. She is currently the Filmmaker-in-Residence at FRONTLINE, where she is completing SHOTS FIRED (Fall 2021), her third film for the outlet. Previously, she wrote, produced and directed FLINT’S DEADLY WATER, about Flint’s lead poisoning crisis. The film was recognized by the Scripps Howard Foundation with the Jack R. Howard Award for Broadcast and was nominated for an Emmy, a Peabody, and was a finalist for both the IRE awards and Livingston awards.


Directed by Sharon Arteaga

Sharon Arteaga is a first-generation Mexican American filmmaker from Corpus Christi. Arteaga has won many short film competitions, including being selected as a 2019 Tribeca Chanel Through Her Lens finalist for her new narrative short film project IN TOW, winner of numerous awards including the Jury and Audience Award for Best Made in Texas Film at Cine Las Americas International Film Festival and the Premio Mesquite Award at CineFestival. She is a recipient of an AFS Grant for short film PLANE PRETEND and part of the directing team who just received a 2021 AFS Grant for Feature Films for new narrative feature, THE UNTITLED TEXAS LATINA PROJECT. Support from this year’s grant will help her see IN TOW—about a self-involved teen and her overworked, single mom who come to a head with their differences as their mobile home is repossessed with them inside of it—through to completion.


Directed by Déjà Cresencia Berhardt

Déjà Cresencia Berhardt is an Austin-based filmmaker raised in Maui and in Bali where her family now lives. She draws upon her diverse heritage, finding inspiration to tell both narrative and documentary stories that open hearts and connect people to their global and indigenous communities. Her films have screened in festivals worldwide and won numerous awards, but more importantly, catapulted humanitarian work into the forefront of the global public eye. Bernhardt’s feature documentary, GUERILLA MIDWIFE, shines a light on the work of her mother, Ibu Robin Lim. It propelled Lim to win CNN’s ‘Hero of the Year’ and use the opportunity to bring efforts to underserved and underrepresented communities. Bernhardt is currently in post-production with her new project LAST HAWAIIAN SUGAR, a prelude narrative short for her feature HALF ANGELS, named one of the top ten best unproduced screenplays by Coalition for Asian Pacifics in Entertainment and The Black List. Support from this year’s grant will help her complete the short about 12-year-old Nua, who makes peace with the mixed emotions she has about the land she lives on when she learns the sugar plantation she calls home will be closed forever.


Directed by Tay Mansmann

Tay Mansmann (he/they) is a queer storyteller and advocate from Devon, Pennsylvania. They aim to foster connection and mindfulness through their work, to draw us back to nature, and to expand representation in front of and behind the camera. He is a student of magical realism and draws inspiration from a lineage of subversive thinkers and everyday queerdos. Mansmann holds a BA in English and Film & Media Studies from Georgetown University, and is currently completing their MFA at UT Austin for Film Production. He received a 2021 AFS Grant for his new narrative short film OBSCURA—after discovering a surreal camera obscura built into an abandoned crop house, two queers at a crossroads in their relationship must overcome projections of their deepest desires and fears made manifest by their perverted scarecrow doppelgangers.


Directed by Katy McCarthy

An artist, filmmaker, and educator based in Austin, Katy McCarthy films explore psychology and feminist history from a surrealist perspective, including her recent shorts THE POSERS, MARY TODD LINCOLN OR WHY I COULDN’T FINISH THE VIDEO IN TIME, and SUCH LONELY COUNTRY. Her films have been screened at The Every Woman Biennial Film Festival, Boulevard Film Festival, CUNY Film Festival, NurtureART’s Single Channel: Video Art Festival, and at numerous galleries and museums. Support from this year’s grant will help her complete her new narrative short, THE VIOLINIST, about a conservative Texas state senator who struggles with his anti-abortion stance after being kidnapped and surgically connected to a violinist whom he must keep alive with his own body for nine months.

little trumpet

Directed by Megan “Megz” Trufant Tillman

Megan “Megz” Trufant Tillman is a writer-creative-musician whose work explores her Southern roots and centers on Black life and culture as well as the Black South. A Katrina baby hailing from New Orleans, she is a storyteller with more than just words. Her works include episodic pilot and runner-up in the 2019 New Orleans Film Festival Screenplay Competition for ALL FRONTS and her new narrative short film, little trumpet. Tillman currently serves as a creative director for various artistic projects—she is co-founder and member of jazz/neosoul/hip hop outfit Magna Carda, and founder and editor of Water, a Black literary arts magazine. She most recently served as script consultant and writer on the music video for Oscar-winning song “Fight For You” by H.E.R. (title song for 2021’s JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH) and Amazon’s H.E.R. Prime Day episode. She received a 2021 AFS Grant for little trumpet, which centers on a nine-year-old loner who wants his brother to teach him to play the trumpet…in the 7th Ward of New Orleans, where that is not so simple.


Directed by Iris Diaz and Alejandra Aragón

2021 AFS Grant recipient SKATAS is a new narrative short film by prolific artists and filmmakers Iris Diaz and Alejandra Aragón, both from Ciudad Juárez, México. The film centers on two friends searching for a place to skate in a city that is not designed for skateboard wheels nor their bodies or dreams.

Iris Diaz is an audiovisual and digital artist born in El Paso and raised in Ciudad Juárez. She has developed as an artist mainly on the Mexican side of the border and has been part of several group exhibitions including “Sin Línea” for “The Wrong” at the 2015 Digital Art Biennial and the “Conservatory of Women Photographers on the Border,” held at the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juárez in 2019. Diaz works mostly works with video, photography, drawing and digital art, frequently mixing them with arte povera and recycled art. Her work deals with topics such as everyday life, memory, loneliness, deterioration, home, motherhood, among others; sometimes approaching them from the absurd.

A past AFS Grant recipient, Alejandra Aragón is a multidisciplinary artist from Ciudad Juárez, México. As a photographer, she participated in the Photographic Production Seminar of the Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City in 2017 and was a member of the 2020 World Press Photo’s Joop Swart Masterclass. As a filmmaker her first documentary LAS NOCHES INVISIBILES was part of the “Coordinates” program of the 2018 Ambulante Film Festival. In 2019, she received support from AFS for her documentary short DISRUPTED BOARDERS. Since 2021, the film has screened at festivals across the U.S., including the Cleveland International Film Festival, Philadelphia Film Festival, Cine Las Americas, and the New Orleans Film Festival.