The theme was Hollywood Salutes the Real Cowboys, but Academy of Art University student Denise Montoya saw an auspicious opportunity to show the world that some of the best cowboys were actually cowgirls when she submitted her short film Real Cowboy Girls
for this year’s Hartman Foundation Scholarship for Realism in Western Movies.
“I knew I wanted to do something on the women, to look at the cowgirl’s side of things,” she said. “Through my research, I learned that there were a lot of independent women ranchers during the time when the homesteaders were making their way out West. It was an amazing time for women. They didn’t even have the right to vote yet, but they were able to start their own businesses and get their own land. They had the same opportunities as men did.”
Denise is a self described “cowboy kind of girl”. She grew up around horses and even worked on a horse ranch in Daly City, a town ten miles south of San Francisco. So it’s no surprise that she would feel passionately about The Hartman Foundation Scholarship competition topic. It’s her unique feminist view on the theme that makes her short film stand out from the rest.
“As a woman film student, I always try to seek out women filmmakers. Even when I have to go under rocks to find them. That’s why I approached the assignment this way,” said Denise. “I found that women were always kind of put down or put in a submissive role in Western movies. I wanted to show that there were very strong cowgirls out there.”
Denise took third place in The Hartman Foundation contest, winning a $1,500 scholarship. Offered through the Academy of Art University Athletics Department, the contest awarded scholarships up to $7,500. Digital video submissions from the top five finalists were screened at a banquet celebrating the 25th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering at the San Francisco Film Centre on October 9.
The movie featured footage of the few strong cowgirl characters Denise was able to find in Hollywood interspersed with footage and photos of past and present real life cowgirls. Denise was particularly inspired by famous sharpshooter Annie Oakley who starred in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. Her success in the show would make her America’s first female superstar.
“In my eyes she actually lived her dream. She went up against the man that she would later marry and she beat him fair and square. He was her biggest fan,” said Denise.
Living the dream is something that all Academy of Art University students strive for. It’s why students like Denise choose to attend the Academy over all other institutions. At the Academy of Art University, students learn how to hone their creative talent so that they can make a career out of doing what they love.