Column: Why San Diego filmmaker Gabriel Gaurano got in the ring with a 12-year-old boxer

Los Angeles boxer Meryland Gonzalez is the subject of "Team Meryland"
Los Angeles boxer Meryland Gonzalez is the subject of “Team Meryland,” a documentary short film directed by Gabriel Gaurano of Solana Beach.
(Gabriel Gaurano)

Los Angeles boxer Meryland Gonzalez is featured in ‘Team Meryland,’ a documentary by Solana Beach filmmaker Gabriel Gaurano


When Gabriel Gaurano started applying to film schools in 2017, he thought his chances of getting in were pretty good. The Canyon Crest Academy senior had been making films since he was in elementary school, and he had already won prizes in some national student-film contests.

While he knew there were no sure things when it came to college, Gaurano was convinced that his future was in filmmaking. And when all of his film-school applications were rejected, he discovered he was right.

“When I didn’t get into any film schools, it shifted my perspective on the world. I was so confident that I was going to get in, and when I didn’t, it challenged me to think about why I really wanted to do film,” the now 22-year-old Gaurano said from his home in Solana Beach.

“I had to learn that my value isn’t contingent on any institution or on anybody else, because that is out of my control. My passion for filmmaking had to come from within.”

Four years later, Gaurano is now a newly minted graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts. He got the degree he wanted from one of the most prestigious institutions in the country, but his passion for filmmaking is still rooted in his heart.

And he has the film to prove it.

Filmmaker Gabriel Gaurano.
(Gabriel Gaurano)

The film is “Team Meryland,” a short documentary following 12-year-old boxer Meryland Gonzalez as she was training to become the 2019 Junior Olympics champion. Gaurano began shooting the film in August of 2018, which was also his first year at USC.

He spent the next two years following Meryland and her parents from 4 a.m. breakfasts at the family’s home in Watts to grueling gym workouts, warm-hearted domestic moments and championship fights, And while he was filming, he was juggling classes, freelance work and the not-occasional need to sleep and eat.

Was he attending football games? No. Going to parties? Hardly ever. Was he having the college experience of his dreams? Of course he was.

“Filming this family and following this story ended up becoming one of my priorities,” said Gaurano, who was the film’s director, editor and cinematographer. “One time, I had to beg all of my professors to push back my finals so I could attend a national tournament in Utah. My lung actually collapsed in 2019, and during the week I had off to recover, I was filming Meryland at school.

“I spent so much of my time at USC hanging out with them, and I don’t regret it. It made my experience better because I was hanging out with the right people. It was so inspiring.”
Gaurano’s documentary made its world premiere at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in February of 2021. It played at the Cleveland International Film Festival in April (where it won the FilmSlam Best Short Award), and at last weekend’s Indy Shorts International Film Festival. The film will be distributed later this year or early next year.

All of this is great, heady news for a young filmmaker whose career is just getting started, and it might not have happened if things had gone as planned.

When Gaurano did not get into film school, he did not spend the summer of 2017 moping. Using the skills he acquired during his years in Canyon Crest Academy’s arts program, Gaurano made “DV-130,” a very personal short film inspired by his family history and his complicated relationship with his father. He wrote and shot the film over the summer, and he finished it during his freshman year at Santa Monica College.

The film won the best drama award at the 2018 All American High School Film Festival, but for Gaurano, the big prize was the one he was able to give to himself.

“It was such a cathartic and emotionally fulfilling experience, and it was also such a confirmation for me. I could say, ‘Even though I didn’t get into film school, I have this relationship with the art form that feeds me.’ I was able to move forward because I kept making films. I didn’t need a school to tell me that what I wanted to do was valid.”

Doing something you love in the face of multiple odds is also the theme of “Team Meryland.” After meeting Meryland’s father, Jorge, while helping a friend from Canyon Crest Academy shoot a film in Watts, Gaurano became immersed in Meryland’s boxing journey and the sacrifices her immigrant parents have made to keep her on track.

He was also inspired by Meryland herself, who is joyful, ambitious and wise beyond her years. Her boxing career hasn’t gone exactly as planned, either. But she remains a pint-sized ball of fire, and documenting her life kept Gaurano’s creative engines firing through his long nights and sleep-deprived days.

Now he hopes the “Team Meryland” spirit will lift up anyone who has a passion worth fighting for.

“This experience changed me because it reaffirmed my belief in the power of family and second chances,” said Gaurano, who takes great comfort and inspiration from his mom and six older siblings. “There is a real truth that by working together as a unit and being resilient in that way, you can really achieve the dreams that you hope to achieve.”