"Saria" Filmmaker Bryan Buckley Teams With Congressmen To Push For Justice In Guatemala
Activist Estephany Raquel Arreaga Jimenez (from left) Congressmen Vicente Gonzalez and Adriano Espaillat, and filmmaker Bryan Buckley
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With his Saria recently nominated for a Best Live-Action Short Oscar, director Bryan Buckley is looking to bring about reform not just through that film but by taking a proactive stance in concert with public officials.

Buckley, a founder of production house Hungry Man, joined Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13) and Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15) on Capitol Hill yesterday (1/30) to discuss the next phase of the campaign to bring justice to the victims of the Virgen de la Asunción Safe Home fire in Guatemala, which claimed the lives of 41 girls. The group was joined by Guatemalan activist Estephany Raquel Arreaga Jimenez, one of the first-responders the day of the fire whose ongoing tireless work has supported the 15 surviving girls throughout their strained road to recovery.

Earlier this week, Reps Espaillat and Gonzalez sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging him to call on the Guatemalan government to investigate the whereabouts of the surviving children and take steps to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

Nearly three years since the tragic fire, Guatemala is still embroiled in a fight for justice. In the aftermath of the disaster, there have been reports of sex trafficking and egregious abuse at the hands of those who were responsible for protecting the children in their care. As legal efforts work their way through the Guatemalan courts to hold responsible parties accountable, this Washington, D.C. meeting signals a call-to-action push in the U.S. for justice.

Buckley said, “I am extremely hopeful that after our meeting with Congressmen Espaillat and Gonzalez that every possible effort is being made by them to secure the welfare of the surviving children.  We pray that Secretary of State Pompeo takes action. These girls are victims of horrific burns and disfigurement. The relatives of the deceased 41 orphan girls have had three years of suffering with no justice.  A trial must happen. And justice must be served.”

Congressman Espaillat stated, “The wounds left from the fire at Virgen de la Asunción Safe Home have continued to manifest across Guatemala and the rest of Latin America nearly three years later. The orphans who lived in that home suffered systemic abuse, exploitation and terror, with the fire marking a tragic miscarriage of a primary tenet shared throughout the international community: the safety of our children is paramount. I am optimistic that President Giammattei will refocus the gaze of lady justice, and ultimately compel the answers that the victim’s families, the Latino community, and the survivors deserve.”

The docu-drama Saria follows two inseparable orphaned sisters, Saria and Ximena, who fight against the daily abuse and unimaginable hardship at the Virgen de La Asuncion Safe Home.  Rather than using traditional child actors to play the roles of the girls, Buckley opted to reach out to orphanages throughout Mexico to participate in the film, ultimately selecting Ministerios De Amor Orphanage in Mexico City to work with in partnership. Buckley felt that these children, if given an opportunity, could shine. Both lead actresses, Estefania Tellez (Saria) and Gabriela Ramirez (Ximena), worked together to land their parts in the film. 

Saria opens today (1/31) in theaters across the nation through the “Shorts TV Presents 2020 Oscar Nominated Shorts” screening program. The film’s wider release coincides with an effort to raise awareness in the U.S. and serve as a catalyst for action in Guatemala. 

Saria marks the second career Live-Action Short Oscar nomination for Buckley--the first coming in 2013 for Asad. His filmography also includes features (The Bronze, The Pirates of Somalia) and assorted commercials, including many which have debuted over the years on the biggest ad stage of all, the Super Bowl. Buckley is a three-time DGA Award nominee for his spotmaking exploits, winning back in 2000. Last year his March For Our Lives “Generation Lockdown” PSA out of McCann New York won the Cannes Lions Grand Prix for Good, selected by the Titanium jury. The PSA features a young girl, Kayleigh, instructing adults on how they would survive an active shooter event. The spot offers a moving look at what students deal with and how schools have had to respond to the very real threat of gun violence. It is estimated that 95% of school kids--some as young as five--are now trained on what to do during an active shooter situation because they have to be prepared for it at any minute, in any community. The PSA ends with a call for viewers to support federal legislation to put universal background checks in place for the purchase of firearms.

Buckley also last year saw the Microsoft “Changing the Game” work he directed go on to win the Titanium Lion and a Grand Clio. “Changing the Game” showcased Xbox’s new adaptive controller, the first ever system designed to be inclusive of physically challenged gamers. The “Changing the Game” spot premiered during the 2019 Super Bowl telecast.


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