ON GUARD: A Story of American Youth., 92min., USA, Documentary
Directed by Randal Allen Otto
On Guard is a coming of age story as told through the eyes of five teenage women of color growing up in an era unlike any other.
Set in the border city of El Paso, TX - a region thrust into the forefront of political issues plaguing the nation - the film takes viewers into the hierarchal hallways of Bel Air High School where a determined, all-female team of students are brought together by their passion for the unheralded, All-American sport of Color Guard.
They say every film made is a miracle. This one is no exception.
At its’ core, ON GUARD is an homage to the unique set of teenage girls who defended me throughout high school. As a gay kid growing up in rural Texas, I never had the courage to participate in Color Guard myself - but both of my sisters and all my high school BFFs were the “Guard Girls”. In retrospect, I can see they were fierce defenders of mine growing up - and I wanted to pay them respect.
Even in high school, I recognized that the world of Winterguard was one unto itself - and had all the ingredients of an offbeat sports documentary.
Though I do have a personal connection to the story, I recognize that there are parts of the story which are not mine to tell. Therefore we invited and tried to provide the tools necessary to empower the characters to take an active part in telling their story. Personal cameras were provided, interviews were loosely guided, and much of the VO was either written or based off poems by one of our main characters - for which she is receiving a writers credit on the project.
I have worked professionally in the documentary world for 10+ years, but this is my first feature film. I would never recommend a global pandemic to any filmmaker starting production on their first feature.
Things change in documentaries and it’s never quite what you planned. I’m used to it, but this was a master class in following the story and persistence.
We were on the frontlines of COVID. Not only did, over the course of a year, the girls struggle to keep their heads above water, but they saw me in crisis as well. We bonded in a way I never expected.
For the better part of three years, I have lived with these girls in El Paso. They were not just subjects or characters in my film, but have become my sisters and friends.
We think we captured something special with this film. We hope you see it too.