Last year, we introduced you to eight incredible Latino filmmakers on the rise in Season 1 of the mitú x Walmart Filmmaker Mentorship Program. These visionaries teamed up with mitú and Walmart to write, prep, direct, and edit one-minute short films over the course of six weeks. In the year since their short films premiered in Los Angeles, our star filmmakers have grown substantially in their careers.

As we kick off Season 2 of the mentorship program, we’ve got some catching up to do with our Season 1 filmmakers. So, let’s see what filmmakers Stephanie Alcantara and Fernando Ponce have been up to since their mentorship wrapped up. Alcantara’s journey began falling into place after applying for the program, and she’s now furthering her film studies in school. As a budding cinematographer, Ponce continues to work on his craft amid a festival circuit that’s proving to be fruitful.

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Stephanie Alcantara

After many birthdays blowing out candles with a wish for a new path, the universe had Stephanie Alcantara’s back. The filmmaker from South Gate, California, went from job to job and lived paycheck to paycheck. She was accepted to the mitú x Walmart Filmmaker Mentorship Program in late 2022. It melted away the lost feeling she developed. Her short film “Ojo,” about the commonly known egg cleanse to rid yourself of the evil eye, premiered last year. It’s a journey she would daydream about, and it’s no longer out of reach.

“I think the best lesson I learned is there is no right way to start,” said Alcantara. “Life happens, and sometimes one can’t start their career path right away. That shouldn’t discourage anyone.”

When the program ended, Alcantara found a film program at a nearby community college, taking her training a step further. While school takes up most of her time, she’s getting her creativity flowing with her podcast about supernatural phenomena and theories. Using the creator kit gifted to her through the mentorship, she’s been able to write and produce her episodes, practicing for future projects.

She cherishes the memories of participating in the mentorship, especially the feedback from her mentors. “Throughout the weeks, my mentors challenged me, inspired me, and helped me grow into the filmmaker I am today. I will always thank this program for igniting this childhood dream of mine and turning it into reality,” she said.

Walking into it with very little knowledge of film, Alcantara left feeling reassured that she could pursue this dream. “After everything that has happened—not only to me but the Latino filmmaking community—it has given me lots of hope,” she said.

Much like in “Ojo,” visual storytelling can showcase Latino experiences and lives in an impactful way. Alcantara says that it’s the best form of storytelling. The picture painted can easily convey messages and emotions that grasp your attention. Being in her new community of Latino filmmakers has been comforting. Truth be told, Alcantara would love nothing more than to work professionally alongside her filmmaking friends one day. Everyone is there for each other to help become the next generation of storytellers. 

Alcantara encourages new filmmakers to share their visions when they’re ready. She wants them to know that while putting yourself out there can be scary and turbulent, it can bring you success. Looking out for film programs, mentorships, and courses is also great for furthering your career. “We are in a time where so many opportunities can come from social media, and everyone has a chance,” she said.

Fernando Ponce

Worcester, Massachusetts native Fernando Ponce grew up in front of the camera, being filmed in home videos by his dad. He loved how those VHS tapes held fond memories of his childhood. It built up his passion for filmmaking, wanting to showcase raw emotions the way those nostalgic recordings did. The Salvadoran-American freelance cinematographer is now based in Los Angeles, creating community-focused short documentaries. 

“Not knowing many people when I first arrived here made it a challenge to get work, but as soon as I began to meet more people in my industry, I started to make the right connections to get the jobs I wanted,” said Ponce.

Through the mitú x Walmart Filmmaker Mentorship Program, he debuted his short film “Cafecito.” Ponce’s mentorship experience went beyond his expectations. In addition to keeping in touch with friends and professionals he connected with, he really appreciated the level of depth the program had. “[It] makes me feel honored to have been a part of it,” he said.

As a Latino, telling stories through a visual medium is important to him. “Visual storytelling runs in our DNA, and it allows for some of those more complex stories to be told with the flavor they deserve,” said Ponce.

Today, the rising filmmaker is taking on projects that inspire him. He recently wrapped up a surf documentary with Los Courage Camps. They are an organization that teaches Latino kids in South and East Los Angeles how to surf with free lessons. While telling stories that go into the lives of strangers, he makes sure to highlight details about who they are and how they think. Character development by way of identifying what they want, need, and what their drive and secrets are has helped him during his writing process. 

He is progressing remarkably in his career, winning an award at a recent film festival for a documentary he shot. In five years’ time, he hopes to gain more experience as a cinematographer. Working with other creative and talented artists is also one of his goals. This includes Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and acclaimed directors Alfonso Cuarón and Spike Lee. 

For any young Latino filmmakers, Ponce suggests experimenting with setting up frames using standard tools available on a cell phone. “Focus less on what gear you do or don’t have and more on the foundations of what it takes to tell visual stories,” he added.

Make sure to stay tuned to mitú’s socials for updates on Season 2 of the mitú x Walmart Filmmaker Mentorship Program!