Last Tuesday night, the 42nd News Emmy Awards were held virtually.
In the penultimate award of the night – the coveted Best Story in a News Magazine Emmy – UConn’s own Professor Oscar Guerra took home the prize for his documentary “Love, Life and the Virus.” His film follows a mother named Zully battling COVID-19 to see her newborn baby, supported by her community during this tumultuous time.
The Daily Campus was lucky enough to speak with Guerra and Professor Heather Elliott-Famularo, the Head of UConn’s department of digital media and design, about this tremendous award.
“It felt a little unreal to be honest, I was not expecting to win … [e]specially … not [in] that category,” Guerra said. “[I]t takes a little time to know that it really won. I [trusted] that my project was good enough, but you’re competing with … super-talented people and great stories.”
“I was watching online, it was later towards the end of the programming and it was absolutely thrilling,” Elliott-Famularo said. “I was able to see how hard he worked and it was such an important story, an important Connecticut story. I was just so happy for him and for the people that were in the film.”
This has been a long time coming for Guerra, as he began working on the project 18 months ago.
“I started working on this project during the peak of the pandemic,” said Guerra. “I was not even working for Frontline at that moment, I was more doing an independent project, I just went out there with my camera and started [recording] what was going on in the ICU here at Stamford hospital. It was a crazy time for all of us … nobody knew what to do, nobody knew what to expect, so I said … I just have to start documenting this. [T]here was another photo-journalist who was covering the pandemic as well and we just tagged along. I was documenting a little bit of what he was doing, then we learned [from] Catalina Horak from Building One Community told us the story about Zully. [R]ight away we said this is an amazing story, we have to follow it no matter where it takes us.”
And follow it they did. Guerra collected “40 hours or more of footage,” ultimately whittling it down to a 34-minute film showcasing the strength of Zully, her family and the Stamford community during this difficult time.
The documentary aired nationally August 11th of last year, through PBS’s Frontline and premiered via UConn’s Human Rights Film+ Digital Media Series last December.
Seven months later, on July 27, 2021, Guerra got word he was nominated for a News Emmy.
“I know that it sounds so cliché, but it was a great honor [just] to be nominated,” said Guerra. “Just for Frontline to say ‘We’re going to send [it in] to compete’ that was a big win. Then for it to be nominated by the Emmys, that was a big win. And then actually getting one, it’s like a dream come true. Really it is, it’s awesome.”
“To be honest, I felt like the underdog there,” Guerra said. “Of course you have the hope of winning and you’re like ‘I’m good at what I do’ and ‘I believe in what I do’ but then you’re competing with people who have been doing this thirty, forty years [with] big budgets. But just like in ‘Love, Life, and the Virus’ … unexpected [things] can happen, good things can happen.”
This is only the beginning for Guerra and UConn’s documentary film production.
“We have the Human Rights Film+ series coming up. Our first film ‘Letters from Nuremberg’ will be shown … and we’ve got a new joint hire in [Professor] Catherine Masud who’s our first joint hire in human rights and digital media & design,” Elliott-Famularo said. “We’re definitely continuing that passion for students who are excited about using digital media as a method of communicating important ideas about human rights issues and social justice.”
Currently Guerra is working on a documentary about the aftermath of the Trump administration’s Zero Tolerance Policy, which instituted forced family separation at the border. This upcoming film is a collaborative effort between UConn, Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and PBS Frontline.
“The reality is we need more stories like [“Love, Life, and the Virus”] because it’s a story of what happens when we work together. Miracles can happen,” Guerra summarized. “We have to get our act together and we have to understand that no matter our differences, if we’re there for each other, things can go in an unexpected[ly] positive way.”