Daniela Arguello finished the sound design for her short film “2500KM” the morning of the film’s premiere in Guatemala City. That night, the film played to a sold-out show of more than 400 people – the theater was so crowded some attendees had to sit on the ground.
Many of the audience members cried when the film finished, the UCLA Extension graduate said. Afterward, she was approached by people who related to the film’s narrative of domestic abuse and family instability.
“It was kind of hard for me because it’s one thing making the film, and it’s another thing of these people approaching you with this delicate subject,” Arguello said. “I was just really glad the film opened a safe space for people to speak up.”
The 22-minute film tells the story of a Guatemalan woman trapped in an abusive marriage. For the sake of her children, she leaves her husband and immigrates illegally to the United States. Arguello said she faced challenges throughout the production, including writing dialogue for the first time and working with nonprofessional actors and a minimal budget in Guatemala.
HBO picked up the short film, which premiered May 1 and is currently available for international audiences via HBO Go and HBO Now.
At the age of 13, Arguello moved from Guatemala City to Florida, where she met women who had immigrated illegally because of domestic violence and a lack of resources in their home countries. Inspired by their stories, she decided to explore the relationship between illegal immigration and domestic violence.
“When I moved to Florida, it made me really angry the way people talked about illegal immigration and how many people were portrayed as being violent or drug addicts or all those terrible things,” Arguello said. “I wanted them to see a different view of the problem.”
Arguello began writing the script in 2015. She had made several silent films before, but found the process for “2500KM” challenging because she had never written dialogue and wasn’t sure how to approach the task. Initially, she wrote the script without any spoken words, only adding dialogue later to make the film more realistic.
“I didn’t want the dialogue to tell the story; it’s just there to make it feel real and help us meet the characters a little bit deeper,” Arguello said. “I feel like all the important communication in film happens visually and sometimes people forget about that.”
After finishing the script, Arguello launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund the film. Though the campaign was unable to raise enough money, Arguello decided to make the film anyway.
“I called it the film that failed a thousand times before sunrise because it was almost impossible to make,” Arguello said.
Arguello bought a ticket to Guatemala and spent the summer of 2015 putting the film together, working with a budget of $500. Because of her limited budget, she doubled as director and cinematographer, while her family made up most of her crew. Her mother helped with set design, her sister operated the sound equipment and her father, Pedro Arguello, co-produced the film.
“Daniela (has been) making films since she was 6 years old,” Pedro Arguello said. “So for us, it’s just a young woman playing with the same things she was playing from when she was a kid.”
Many of the actors had very little acting experience, so Daniela Arguello had to come up with inventive ways to get them into character. Arguello encouraged one actor, who was playing an intense, over-the-top character to jump around and shout curse words before filming to help him channel his energy into the performance.
Once filming finished, Arguello began editing the film and assembled a post-production crew of people who were willing to work for free because they believed in the story, she said. Arguello first attempted to adjust the color of the film on her own, but found that she was unable to achieve the look she wanted, so she reached out to fellow UCLA Extension alumna Adrienne Klotz-Floyd, who worked as a colorist on the film.
The footage posed some visual difficulties, Arguello said. During filming, she had only one lamp to use as a light source, resulting in uneven lighting in the various shots.
“(Arguello) knew there were some challenges and there were some things we were really going to have to work on,” Klotz-Floyd said. “But she was great to work with. She was excited and she believed in the project and getting in there and really getting it done and that’s worth a lot.”
Now that her film is available for international audiences on HBO, Arguello said she hopes people outside of Guatemala will view immigration through a different lens.
“The domestic abuse of women, it’s a huge problem that no one does anything about,” Arugello said. “I think with this, maybe we can start a conversation to give a voice to these people who are suffering.”