Young Guns 21: Gabriela Ortega

By Alixandra Rutnik and Brett McKenzie on Nov 01, 2023

Get to know the phenomenal class of Young Guns 21

After 85 incredible finalists and intense deliberation, the Young Guns jury has narrowed it down to the 29 winners that make up the class of Young Guns 21. An astounding collection of animators, illustrators, film directors, typographers (a few Ascenders 2023 winners as well!), graphic designers, and photographers make up YG21.

Every year we interview the Young Guns winners to get to know them better as artists and people. And as always, we are welcoming another class of outstanding individuals into the highly coveted Young Guns community.

Now that you know the YG21 winners better, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating them in person at NYC’s Sony Hall on Wednesday, November 15, 2023, at 6:30 PM. See you in two weeks and get ready to party!

Gabriela Ortega


Los Angeles, CA, & Dominican Republic


Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic


When did you first learn about Young Guns?

My dear friend Boma Iluma (YG19) was a winner a couple of years ago, which prompted my curiosity for it. I gravitated towards the diverse community of artists and talent being showcased by the program and really wanted to be part of the club.

How did you end up in the creative field anyways?

I've always had a desire to tell stories. I grew up in the Dominican Republic with a huge family and many cousins, and I always found a way of orchestrating a dance, a stand-up set, or filming our very own "Sunday news show" with an old camcorder at my grandmother's house. I love making people laugh, and that brought me to do theatre at an early age. I was part of one of the few after-school programs in my city all through high school, and that led me to apply to college in the U.S. for acting.

"I've always had a desire to tell stories. I grew up in the Dominican Republic with a huge family and many cousins, and I always found a way of orchestrating a dance, a stand-up set, or filming our very own "Sunday news show" with an old camcorder at my grandmother's house."

I was proud to be selected for the USC acting program, and due to my scholarships and loan setup, I was able to get a work-study job at school. My first job was in the cinema library, a legendary place full of books and movies with an incredibly inspiring archive. I was never interested in American football, so I spent most of my weekend mornings hungover and watching classic films between book checkouts instead of tailgating the USC games.

I love theatre, but it was inspiring to see filmmaking's impact on culture and how much more accessible a movie can be. I started taking writing classes in both theatre and film and developing my voice as a creator.

We are at an exciting time because Latin American directors and writers are finally breaking into the mainstream. However, that was not the case ten years ago when I first moved to Los Angeles. People around me wouldn't dare imagine a story about a Dominican person, family, or our culture back then. So I took it upon myself to stop fitting in the "Latina" box I was given as an actor and make my box with the stories I wanted to tell as an interdisciplinary artist.

My first movie, "Papi," was shot entirely on my iPhone in the Dominican Republic and was a portrait of my father and my relationship to the island– I filmed it all of 2019. I wasn't trying to make a movie or get into a fancy film festival, I was trying to capture the feeling of being a tourist in my own country and my changing relationship with my father. I enlisted my dear friend Lauren Cabanas to edit, and Jeff Cendejas to do sound design, and the project gave me hope during the pandemic.

When it was done, I submitted it to a few festivals, one being the Nalip Latino media showcase in which HBO representatives saw it. The short got acquired, and I was able to bring on a composer and dear friend, Rene Boscio, and pay everyone who believed in the film since the beginning. Now my dad gets to brag to his friends that he is the lead of an HBO film still streaming on the platform.

Since then, I have rallied friends to make short movies (nothing over 3K) and started building a portfolio. By the time I had materials to show, I applied to the Lena Waithe/Indeed Rising Voices fellowship and was allowed to make a short I had written for 100K. That program changed my life. The experience was very full circle as I could bring on friends and collaborators from all my different practices and make something I was genuinely proud of.

The result was my short film "Huella," about a Dominican Flamenco dancer which premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and is now set to become my first feature film.

Congrats on the W! Why did you decide to enter this year?

This is my first time entering and I am really grateful to have been selected. As I enter my late twenties, this award is a great opportunity to reflect and be grateful for everything and everyone who's been along for the ride. I am excited to enter a more confident season in my life, still curious about the world but knowing myself a little better. After doing so many fellowships and directing for other people, I'm ready to go back to indie filmmaking and to really excavate the things that scare me.

You only get to submit six projects that embody you and your talent. The best of the very best. So, how did you decide which pieces were good enough to make the cut?

I don't have a lot, but everything I have, I've done with my whole heart. So I just sent the things that define me the most. I don't like to think it was the perfect entry, but it was definitely the most "me" entry.

What was your reaction when you discovered that you won?

I still have a hard time defining myself and feel I have something to prove because my path to filmmaking has been anything but linear. But it brought me great joy to see the news between editing a project I am in post-production for. It's nice when these things catch you when you're working because you get to take a moment to feel proud, but you still have to keep your head down and continue on.

In what ways does your hometown inspire your creativity as an artist? What about your current city?

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and the Caribbean are the root of everything I do. There is something about the rhythm of Caribbean life and Caribbean speech that dictates how I see the world and decide how to approach a story. I live for the chaos, the loudness, and the constant hustle that still finds time to sit down for coffee or beer and share with those who matter. I have inherited a deep desire to connect with others, and the more I go home to live in the present and experience the power of human connection, the more I am inspired to create and share with my community.

There is also something about our waters– the white sands, and the way the breeze hits you on a sunny day that takes me to a pure place and reminds me of the magical moments that are often overlooked because they seem mundane.

Now that you’re a part of the Young Guns community, are there any past winners you look up to and admire?

I mean The Daniels (YG14), of course, I deeply admire how they don't let anyone tell them how to craft a story and how they have honed in on their voice.

Sean Wang (YG20), who is a dear friend, has an unparalleled eye. His films are intimate and monumental at the same time, and I can't wait for the world to see his first feature.

Boma Iluma (YG19), another dear friend. His work is poetic and rhythmic and I have a special place in my heart for him because we both went through hell and back during our time at USC.

If you could create a new Young Guns tradition, what would you want it to be and why?

Maybe there could be a buddy system? Like every Young Guns alum picks a new Young Guns winner to mentor or connect with?

Name a creative and professional dream project that you have yet to fulfill — maybe Young Guns will propel you in that direction!

I am incredibly excited to hopefully shoot my feature film HUELLA in NYC and the Dominican Republic next year.

I'd love to make a film about Ana Mendieta, and I'd love to get Toyota to sponsor a documentary series about my father FJ overloading community in the Dominican Republic.

This is YG21, but what do you imagine you’ll be up to when YG31 rolls around in 2033?

Personally, I hope I continue growing curious and I stay strong in my values. I hope I open doors for others, and I hope I own a house.

Professionally, I would love to have a couple of features under my belt, and I hope I can open a residency for artists in the Dominican Republic.

Will we see you at the YG21 party in NYC in November?




Come party with us and celebrate all the Young Guns 21 winners on Wednesday, November 15 at Sony Hall! See you at 6:30 PM in NYC!

Get tickets! It's party time!

The class of Young Guns 21



Fire + Fragility: Zuzanna Rogatty's YG21 Cube Design
Young Guns 21: Max Amato
Young Guns 21: Justin Au
Young Guns 21: Tess Ayano







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