Article in the Phoenix "Downtown Devil"

Shelly Ortiz is a writer.

Shelly Ortiz is a director.

Shelly Ortiz is a producer.

Shelly Ortiz is 18 years old.

Shelly Ortiz, a senior at theMetropolitan Arts Institute in downtown Phoenix, was one of 16 filmmakers officially selected and recognized at the White House’s first Student Film Festival on Feb. 28.

“Once I stopped looking for recognition from everyone else and started looking for recognition from myself, all these opportunities started coming to me,” Ortiz said.

The White House tasked filmmakers, kindergarten through 12th grade, with creating a short film about the need for technology in schools to improve education. They received over 2,500 initial entries.

In her film, titled “Technology, Documentary, My Dad, and Me,” Ortiz showed how technology has transformed her education, artistic abilities and family relationships.

“I planned it out, wrote a voice-over, saw ways that I could incorporate what I feel into the film and submitted it,” Ortiz said. “When I got that email (from the White House), I freaked out. It was insane.”

Under the impression that she would be attending the film festival as a guest, Ortiz and her film teacher, Stephanie Lucas, began to pack for Washington D.C.

The night before their departure, Ortiz received a phone call from Adam Garber, the deputy director of digital content for the Office of Digital Strategy at the White House. He asked her if she would like to introduce President Barack Obama at the festival.

“I couldn’t sleep that night,” Ortiz said. “I was so excited.”

Upon arriving in Washington D.C., Ortiz was able to meet with Obama before addressing the film festival’s audience.

(Photo courtesy of Shelly Ortiz)

Metropolitan Arts Institute senior Shelly Ortiz introduced President Barack Obama at the first White House Student Film Festival on Feb. 28. Ortiz’s film showed how technology has transformed her education and family relationships. (Photo courtesy of Shelly Ortiz)

“Me and Barack talked a little bit,” Ortiz said. “He asked me what school I went to, saying he was proud of me for making it this far, how he liked my film. He was just very sweet. We hugged, which was great.”

The films were introduced by actor Kal Penn, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, scientist and television personality Bill Nye and American Film Institute President and CEO Bob Gazzale — all of whom Ortiz met.

“I was a little nervous,” Ortiz said. “(They told me), ‘It’s OK to be nervous. If you’re not nervous, then you shouldn’t be here. You’re an amazing filmmaker. I’m so proud of you for being here.’ Everything I needed to hear, they said it to me and it meant so much coming from some of my biggest inspirations, my idols.”

In her two minute and 15 second film, Ortiz overviewed her three senior projects — a contest entry for C-SPAN, a fictional film called “Someday in California” and a documentary titled “What’s an Epi?” — all the products of her five years at the technologically innovative Metropolitan Arts Institute.

This week, Ortiz found out her C-SPAN entry, “Diagnosing the Problem,” placed first in the West region of the C-SPAN 2014 StudentCam Documentary Competition. She will share a $3,000 prize with co-creators Nina Nandin and Hannah Hood, who are also seniors at the Metropolitan Arts Institute.

“It’s definitely a big deal,” Nandin said. “It kind of all happened at once. It came out of nowhere. Everyone’s really happy for her. She works so hard on everything she does. She totally deserves it.”

“What’s an Epi?” is the story of her father, Epi Ortiz, and his life growing up with a single, prostitute mother addicted to heroin.

“My dad never really had a father figure or a mother figure to teach him how to be a father,” Shelly Ortiz said. “I learned a lot about his childhood doing this film and that’s given me a better appreciation for him as a father and how well he’s done.”

After his mother lost custody, both Epi Ortiz and his brother went from foster home to foster home. When he agreed to the film, Epi Ortiz went back to his Brooklyn neighborhood for the first time and allowed his daughter to film it.

“If you weren’t Puerto Rican you didn’t go to that neighborhood and even if you were Puerto Rican, you still didn’t go to that neighborhood,” Epi Ortiz said. “It was really interesting because every time I turned the corner, all the memories came back. All the anxiety came back.”

Shelly Ortiz and her father both agree that this film was an opportunity to grow closer as a family and affirm their love for one another and appreciation for the future.

“Because of technology, an 18-year-old girl from Arizona got to get her father and her story out,” Shelly Ortiz said.

Shelly Ortiz will be majoring in film production at Scottsdale Community College in the fall and hopes to transfer to the California Institute of the Arts.

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