Gabriella Moses Wins TFF’s 2023 Nora Ephron Award

Boca Chica won the Tribeca Film Festival’s 11th Annual “Nora Ephron Award” for female filmmakers, the first win for a filmmaker from the Dominican Republic. This beautiful film was a collaborative creative partnership of women to bring to the screen the complicated lives of teenage girls in a beach community near Santo Domingo (the Dominican Republic’s capital).

Dominican producer Sterlyn Ramirez brought the perceptive script by Marité Ugás (from Peru) and Mariana Rondón (from Venezuela) to Dominican-American director Gabriella A. Moses, teaming with Peruvian cinematographer Micaela Cajahuaringa. While displaying the exuberant island culture, their film is sensitive to the impact of the Dominican Republic diaspora to the USA on extended families left behind.  The story encompasses the uneasy intersection for females between dependency on bare remittances (with tied expectations of expatriate relatives), and the need to accommodate tourists looking for illicit services.

Desi’s growing maturity exacerbates tensions and prompts revelations.

Gabriella and her team found the musically-talented Scarlet Camilo to play 12-year-old Desiree. Desi, on the cusp of adolescence, dreams of being a singer, so she performs in the church choir, learns rap from teasing boys, and posts her videos on social media. As her family prepares for the return of their prodigal sons for a big wedding, Desi’s growing maturity exacerbates tensions and prompts revelations.

The Nora Ephron Award guidelines are: “One narrative film directed by or written by a woman making its World or International Premiere.”

This year the five jurors for the Ephron Award were:

  • Nina Dobrev – actress, writer, director, producer & entrepreneur
  • Clea DuVall –  actress, writer, director & producer
  • Piper Perabo – actress, producer & activist
  • A.V. Rockwell – director, writer, producer & cinematographer
  • Emma Seligman – writer, director & producer
Click on image to expand

The jury selected Boca Chica because: “With strong visual language that drew us in, lived in performances and original magnetic storytelling, this movie fearlessly confronted family dynamics. The filmmaker expertly portrays the disparity between how the American dream is perceived outside of the USA versus the experience of immigrants freshly arriving on American soil. Honoring the chaos of puberty while introducing its exploitation.”

This year, they also awarded “Special Jury Mention” to filmmaker Shelly So Young Yu for Smoking Tigers: “A film with an intimate power, captivating performances and striking cinematography [by Heyjin Jun]. This film tenderly explores the complexity of adolescence, the immigrant experience, being a child of divorce and how familial trauma can impact romantic relationships.”

This is an emotional drama of a Korean-American girl struggling with her parents’ separation and the social and academic pressures at a hagwon (a supplementary tutoring academy).  The script was chosen last year for the AT&T-sponsored ”Untold Stories” $1 million production grant that guaranteed inclusion in this year’s Festival and HBO Max first look.  Now the final film also won two other prizes: “Best Screenplay in a U.S. Narrative Feature” and “Best Performance in a U.S. Narrative Feature” to 21-year old lead Ji-Young Yoo: “For this actor’s skill in holding the depth of their character’s experience with a quiet strength, vulnerability and a willingness to stay soft and open to their scene partners and camera alike.”

The careers of both Gabriella A. Moses and Shelly So Young Yu are off to great starts, and FF2 Media will continue to follow them, along with the previous Nora Ephron Award winners.

© Nora Lee Mandel (8/30/23) – Special for FF2 Media®


Unfortunately, Boca Chica is not available for viewing yet. We’ve waited long enough, so we’re releasing this post anyway, with the promise that we will update this page when we learn more about release dates.

Click here for Gabriella Moses’s website and here for her IMDb page.

Read Nora Lee Mandel’s review of Boca Chica on her Maven’s Nest site.

Read WHERE ARE THEY NOW? FF2 Media’s Exclusive Update on Prior Winners of the Prestigious Nora Ephron Award (as of April 2023)

Learn more about Nora Ephron on Wikipedia.

Read tribute to Nora Ephron What Would Nora Do? One Last Look at Nora Ephron’s “Successful” Film Career in Huffington Post by Jan Lisa Huttner (FF2’s Editor-in-Chief).


Photographs of Director Gabriella A. Moses and star Scarlet Camilo from Boca Chica (Photographer Micaela Cajahuaringa). Used with permission. All Rights Reserved.

Tags: Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, Gabriella A. Moses, Gabriella Moses, Jan Lisa Huttner, Mariana Rondón, Marité Ugás, Micaela Cajahuaringa, Nora Ephron, Nora Ephron Award, Nora Ephron Prize, Nora Lee Mandel, Shelly So Young Yu, Smoking Tigers, Tribeca Film Festival

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Nora Lee Mandel is a member of New York Film Critics Online. After high school weekends spent learning film history at NY’s Museum of Modern Art, she studied film criticism at New York University. In addition to many years of writing for national and New York City organizations in the arts, education, history, and city planning, her reviews of documentaries, independent, and foreign-language films, books, television, exhibitions, and music have also appeared in such outlets as:, FilmFestival Traveler and Lilith Magazine, the independent Jewish feminist quarterly. Her ongoing Critical Guide to Jewish Women in Movies, TV, and Pop Music has been the basis for her talks around the New York region.
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