‘It became more than just a story’: Documentarian Oscar Guerra visits QU for Latinx Heritage Month


Oscar Guerra, won an Emmy for his feature documentary “Love, Life & the Virus”, a film following an immigrant mother’s battle between pregnancy and COVID-19. (Photo contributed by Ephemia Nicolakis / Quinnipiac University)

Aidan Sheedy, Copy Editor

With a protective medical suit, a KN95 mask and a camera, director Oscar Guerra captured the moments of an immigrant family’s story of humanity and the COVID-19 pandemic in his Emmy-winning documentary “Love, Life & the Virus.”

Guerra showcased his influential work with an audience as he spoke at Quinnipiac University’s Clarice L. Buckman Theater on Sept. 27, as part of the ongoing Latinx Heritage Month celebration.

The director and the audience watched his PBS Frontline feature, representing the courage of working and immigrant families. The story follows a Guatemalan immigrant and mother named Zully, who had the world crashing down on her. At eight months pregnant and with another child at home, Zully was stricken with COVID in April 2020.

There, capturing life unfolding at the height of a pandemic, was Guerra.

“Imagine how hard it is for you not to feel the suffering from the person in front of you,” Guerra said. “We’re in a moment where I don’t know if I’m gonna get infected, and I’m going to die.”

Guerra said he would have to be ready to film 24/7, prepared for any circumstance. He revealed to the audience that in the rawest, most tense moments of Zully’s journey, he too was in tears, and that’s when it wasn’t just about the film anymore.

“It became more than just a good story, it was pretty much a miracle,” Guerra said. “Of course it’s worth saving one person, but what about saving more people with one message?”

Not only did the film tug at the audience’s heartstrings, but it sparked conversations throughout the theater. Guerra had a chance to answer students’ questions about his work. Of course, the consistent theme surrounded the Latinx community as Latinx Heritage Month continues until Oct. 15.

“You are what you consume and you need to have a balanced diet in order to be healthy,” he said. “The same thing with representation in the media.”

According to NPR, the percentage of Latino media workers grew by only 1% over the last decade, only proving Guerra’s claims that there needs to be a push for more Latino representation in the media and film industry.

Guerra, a filmmaker and an associate professor of film at the University of Connecticut, emphasized his pride after receiving the Emmy award for “Best Story in a News Magazine’” in 2021.

“I’m still gloating, it’s amazing,” he said. “Knowing that sometimes budget is not the most important thing, it’s the passion that you put into the project– the storytelling.”

Before coming to the U.S. and receiving his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2014, Guerra grew up in Mexico and attended Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico City. Interestingly enough, Guerra always wanted to be an entertainer, using his voice differently.

“I actually thought I was gonna be a mariachi singer for a while,” Guerra said. “That’s something that I’ve always been super passionate about.”

Junior political science major and president of the Latino Cultural Society, Emily Diaz, hosted and introduced Guerra for the event. Diaz said what stuck with her most was Guerra discussing the line between documenting and invasion of privacy.

“It was so powerful,” Diaz said. “It’s a really hard line to balance on. When we’re talking about real people’s lives, real struggles that immigrants and people of color around the country and around the world face, how can we have productive conversations … I think that’s really important.”

Diaz said she connected on a personal level with Guerra. As a political science major and an avid researcher, she found great pride in being the one to introduce Guerra at the event.

“Being able to listen to him talk about research, about his doctorate, and talk about where he’s taken that and molded that into what his passions are is truly inspiring,” Diaz said. “Often times we read things that we don’t tie the author to whether it’s literature or in the media. It’s really nice to know that they are a person and meet the man behind the camera.”

Sophomore criminal justice and sociology double-major Sofia Suárez attended the event and reflected on a broader perspective as someone who comes from a predominantly Hispanic community.

“The film was breathtaking. For some reason it didn’t process in my head how COVID hit other people, especially in the Latino community,” Suárez said. “It was almost a slap in the face. I see (Latinx people) struggling, I see them fighting to build a life for themselves.”

To see a Latino perspective was another crucial component for Suárez to understand the different experiences people have to get where they want to be professionally.

“I think it was important to see a successful Latino filmmaker … because there are so little successful Latinos that I hear about … so it was really important to see a (Latino) come to this school and see how he managed to succeed.”