Local storytellers recognized by independent film fest

By Ashley Orona

Contributing Writer

BELL — A documentary short by a local community group put Southeast Los Angeles on the international stage when it was nominated for an award at the Montreal Independent Film Festival in early September.

The documentary, “Paola & Karely,” showcases two sisters from Compton who started a food kitchen from their home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Produced by local storytelling group SELA Strong and directed by Danny Gamboa, the short film was nominated in the best short documentary film category for the month of September.

The Montreal Independent Film Festival showcases Canadian and international films of all genres. The monthly edition takes place online and winners are eligible to enter the annual competition, which pre-COVID would take place at the Cinema du Parc of Montreal.

The artists in SELA Strong create short stories, films, photography and art that tell the stories of local people involved in social justice, particularly related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the film did not ultimately win, the group was happy that their story was recognized by a global audience.

The short film follows two sisters who open their home to their community at the beginning of the pandemic and share meals, household products and informational resources. The film captures them setting up this project at the beginning of the pandemic, which made producing the documentary particularly challenging.

“We filmed them and their story during the pandemic,” said SELA Strong member Elizabeth Uribe. “March had just passed so we were still in a very hot situation with the pandemic cases rising and they were nice enough to let us in. I think that’s what made the story great that they very much were open and vulnerable by telling their story.”

Black, Indigenous, and Latino communities have been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, contracting and dying at higher rates of COVID-19 than white people, according to a report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Many cities in Southeast Los Angeles are majority Latino, which has one of the highest COVID-19 mortality rates in the county.

These communities have long-standing systemic health and social inequities that have put them at higher risk. Many people within them also work essential jobs and are more at-risk of contracting the virus. “Paola & Karely” showcases the people behind those sobering facts and statistics, focusing on their challenges and their resilience.

“The main reason we wanted to tell these stories is because of COVID,” said director Danny Gamboa. “Once the economy goes back to normal, people are going to forget about Black and brown stories,” “They’re just going to focus on the economy and go back to normal, right. But we know that we will never go back to normal. Some of our families have changed.”

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