top of page
Award Winner

Festival Season:

May 2024

ON GUARD: A Story of American Youth

ON GUARD: A Story of American Youth



Allen Otto


Jim Czarnecki

Run Time:


Awarded for the following Category(s):

Awarded Category(s)

Set in the border city of El Paso, Texas - this energetic documentary follows an all-girl team of high school students connected by their passion for the unheralded, all-American sport of Color Guard, as they compete in the wake of tragedy, navigate the universal trials and tribulations of adolescence and come of age in an era unlike anything America has experienced before. 

OVERVIEW: 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 Color Guard performers aim to take their team to the WGI World Championships.

 Bel Air High School is located just three miles from the border wall separating the US and Juarez, MX. The student population there is 97.7% hispanic and 76% of students come from households living in hyper-poverty (less than $16k/year). Yet for our teenage protagonists a preoccupation with the latest gossip and finding the perfect prom dress heavily outweigh the importance of politics. 

The return to school this year would also mark what became the largest attack on the Latino community in modern history. A gunman kills 23 people at a Wal-Mart within walking distance of the school. Shocked by the proximity of the close attack - a fresh-faced principal scrambles to revise outdated safety measures. 

As their own unique way of grappling with the reality of the larger world, the team of teenage girls decide to create a performance dedicated to the victims of the massacre - with the goal of taking their show to the World Championships - set for April 2020. 

For Bel Air’s Color Guard Team, a proud group of Mexican-American women, participating in a militaristic, patriotic sport feels natural - yet the irony of teenage girls carrying fake rifles in the wake of a mass shooting and political unrest, is palpable. The events happening around them are seemingly unconnected to Color Guard, affecting their lives deeply. 

What begins as a semi-traditional sports documentary about an underdog team of girls from El Paso, turns into something much larger; An intimate glimpse into the lives of young women of color growing up in America today. Told over the course of three years, audiences watch as they navigate the universal trials and tribulations of adolescence, discover their own identities and ultimately come of age in an era unlike anything America experienced before. 

The story ends on a new generation of young women, connected by their shared experiences and On Guard for whatever the world throws at them next.

Submitter Statement

This film isn’t on trend for what’s popular in the documentary world right now. There are no celebrities, no serial killers and it doesn’t re-package the news. 

This is a cinema verite style film about a group of teenage girls living on the border of the US/Mexico that follows them over the course of the last 3.5 years. 

It is my first independent feature. I would love nothing more than to share it. 

This is a film for people who love documentaries and appreciate the art behind it. At Sundance 2023, Corporate Docs Nab the Spotlight (INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY ASSOCIATION) - 

“Nowhere is the commercialization of the nonfiction field seemingly more apparent than at the Sundance Film Festival. With entertaining documentaries this year on Michael J. Fox, Little Richard, the Indigo Girls, Brooke Shields, Stephen Curry, and Judy Blume, this year’s festival could easily be framed as the further mainstreaming of the documentary form, packaged into recognizable names and formulas by the likes of Apple, Amazon, Netflix, CNN, Showtime, and Hulu. And yet, there were also some countervailing trends. " Martin Scorsese: ‘The Image on an iPhone Is the New Cinema Verite” (INDIEWIRE)

For me, what I’m trying to do is find a way just to make films so that they’re not put into niches of fiction or nonfiction. The word documentary is outmoded now,” Scorsese said at a Q&A” 

“The thing about it is, yes, there are certain kinds of nonfiction films with journalistic subjects that deal specifically with history — of music, sport, whatever — but I’m trying to find something where they’re just movies, and they slip in and out of each other and they affect each other,” he said, adding that even in the edit or structuring of a film, he doesn’t differentiate between narrative or nonfiction.’’ Sundance’s Identity Crisis Might Be a Good Thing for Hollywood (VULTURE)

Allen is a queer director, producer and activist originally from San Antonio, Texas. He obtained his BA in Radio-Television-Film from the University of Texas at Austin and his thesis, Psycho Billy, was nominated for the ASC Student Heritage Award. Over the years, Allen has built a consistent track record in creating critically acclaimed and award-winning long-form documentaries. His work as co-creator and producer of the LGBTQ+ documentary series, Gaycation with Elliot Page, received two Emmy nominations, two GLAAD Media Award nominations, and won an Imagen Award for Latino Representation. Additionally, he co-created and produced the series VICE Does America, a seven-episode half hour TV show that follows three journalists as they zig-zag across America in an RV during the 2015 Presidential Primaries. Prior to that, Allen was an associate producer across the first three seasons of VICE (HBO), where segments he helped produce were recognized with two Emmy Awards and an additional two nominations.

Key Cast

Other Credits

bottom of page