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Neel Foundation Scholarship Helps Film Students Make Substantial Strides in Their Work

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Hyatt Mamoun

In 2004, School of Communication alumna Sophia Neel Kountz, with the support of the Neel Family Foundation, financed the Neel Foundation Scholarship in honor of Professor John Douglass. As a student, Kountz worked with Douglass after his previous teaching assistant resigned, continuing the relationship and position until her graduation in 1985. Kountz, then a teacher, wanted a way to support current documentary film students, much like Douglass had done for her and many other students over the past 30 years.

The scholarship seeks to support students while they finish their films at a level appropriate for submission to film festivals, with the cost of entering these festivals, or for the costs associated with audio mixing, color and sound correction, titling, etc.

Awarded in the late spring, this past year the scholarship was granted to the following students:

Hyatt Mamoun, A Bahamian Queen

Hyatt Mamoun heard National Geographic say that there were 10 years left to save the Bahamian conch, so she decided to make a film about it. She initially took a crew to the island nation in May to film the documentary, titled Bahamian Queen. Since learning that the conch is a cultural icon and culinary staple of the Bahamas, Hyatt knew she wanted to add more to her film. Due to the scholarship, she was able to return to the Bahamas and take additional footage in August during a national festival devoted to the sea creature. Her project is slated to be finished in January 2020.

Hyatt now works at National Geographic as an Assistant Editor and is a Wildlife and Environmental Filmmaking Masters student.

Kathleen Gaeta, A Gift from Your Cat

Kathleen Gaeta’s A Gift from Your Cat focuses on the increasingly worsening issue of feral and domestic cats preying on birds. To date, cats are responsible for the extinction of over 60 species, killing anywhere from one to four billion birds every year. The film features an ornithologist and specialist from the American Bird Conservancy as they explore the issue and possible solutions.

Gaeta is currently pursuing further research for her film, discovering that the next step to saving native animal and bird species may involve putting down feral cats—all to save the other species at risk.