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Team Meryland short film review

★★★★

Directed by: #GabrielGaurano

Written by: #GabrielGaurano


 

Whilst most of us in England may not even want to think about sport after last Sunday, the eyes of the world will soon turn to Tokyo and the start of the 2020 Olympic Games. Athletes dream for years of competing at the games and face enormous challenges just to qualify. You won’t see Meryland Gonzalez, star of documentary short Team Meryland this year; her eyes are set on 2024. But you’d be hard pressed to find any athlete who has had a tougher journey.


Team Meryland follows 12-year-old boxer Meryland Gonzalez and her family, as she trains to become 2019 Junior Olympics champion. Meryland’s journey leads her through intense competition against the best young boxers in the US, and made all the more incredible by her overcoming a life-threatening illness in her youth. Her family, having themselves overcome challenges to reach the US from Mexico, support her in her burgeoning career – making her success a true family affair.


There’s a little bit of everything in Team Meryland. The emotional and moving journey of Meryland herself is made instantly relatable and heart-wrenching – with her mother’s assertion that she is a miracle child one that viewers will find hard to disagree. Yet the film still takes care to tell Meryland’s full story, with her illness just one part of it. Her journey in boxing is given equal significance, as is the lives of her family and the importance of heart and perseverance. The result is an engaging and gripping sporting documentary short.


Director Gabriel Gaurano uses footage of Meryland boxing to drive the story forward. The scenes are shot with an incredible intensity – the punches of 12-year-old girls resonating on screen like earth-shaking haymakers. The fights are visceral and enthralling, and the tension viewers will feel as the judges make their final decision at the film’s conclusion rivals even that of pivotal title fights. Meryland’s life is anything but a foregone conclusion, and the film makes sure to put that drama at its forefront.


The rest of the film is beautifully shot, with intimate close-ups of the documentary’s stars deployed to bring audiences into their world, juxtaposed with long-shot sunsets over Meryland’s home of Watts, California. The greyish hue over the camera and freehand style of filming echoes Netflix’s seminal series Last Chance U – a documentary that also covers young athletes fighting adversity to achieve their dreams. If there is ever a ‘Last Chance High’, Meryland would be a star pupil.


As the title suggests, this is not just Meryland’s story. Her Mother and Father have fought out of relative poverty in Mexico just to get to the US, and to provide the care and support she needed just to find her feet (very literally). Their lives are worthy of their own documentary, and the director gives them plenty of time and focus to tell their tale.


Meryland’s inspiring story is also the perfect tonic to the Trumpian-nonsense surrounding Mexican/American immigration – (and given recent events, a tonic that the UK seems to need as well). She proudly fights to represent the United States, her country of birth but the land her parents journeyed to. No-one can question the heart she shows to fight for and represent her country – and that is a far greater display of pride than any flag waving can ever reach. No matter where you are in the world, you’ll feel part of Team Meryland having watched her tale.


 

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