SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- A Solana Beach native’s documentary film about a young girl's quest for boxing gold in the Junior Olympics is winning awards and rave reviews at festivals around the country.
Gabriel Gaurano’s film, “Team Meryland,” is an immersive portrait of 12-year-old Meryland Gonzalez, a girl growing up in Los Angeles’ Watts neighborhood who is seeking greatness in the boxing ring.
“I want to be someone in life. I want to be known for something,” Meryland said in the documentary.
“I'm a filmmaker that made this project about boxing, but it's really about family,” Gaurano told ABC 10News.
Gaurano was born and raised in Solana Beach and began the project during his sophomore year at the University of Southern California.
“I was just really inspired by the family more than anything,” said Gaurano. “And it was the first time I had the privilege to really capture another person's story.”
Gaurano said he was working on another project in the Watts neighborhood, when he was approached by the Meryland's father.
“He tells me, ‘I see you have a camera. I have a daughter who boxes, maybe you'd want to make a video about her sometime,’” said Gaurano.
That chance encounter would lead Gaurano into a life-changing project, including a year-and-a-half of shooting that allowed little time for the usual college life.
“I had a season pass to go to every single football game, but I didn't go to a single game because I was over at their [Gonzalez] house filming them every weekend,” said Gaurano.
Gaurano said the extensive time allowed him to capture beautiful footage but also sometimes blurred the boundaries between storyteller and subject.
“It was a very beautiful experience, but it almost made it harder because I was so involved with the family. I had to find that balance between being a filmmaker and being a family friend,” Gaurano said.
Guarano's film also balanced Meryland's boxing quest against the weight of a past medical trauma that threatened her life -- making her decision to box one for the entire family.
“I learned about the power of family through this documentary,” said Gaurano. “The miracle of second chances. All of those themes and elements that I've experienced with my family.”
While shooting most of the footage himself, Gaurano said he received critical help along the way from two San Diego friends, Julia Elihu and Jason Phillips, who served as producers.
Gaurano’s former teacher at Canyon Crest Academy, Brad Kester, gave his time as an editing consultant.
The film is still touring festivals but you can learn more about the project at TeamMerylandFilm.com.