Erin Ploss-Campoamor Reflects on Her Film 'Luciela'

by Latino Public Broadcasting on July 12, 2021
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Director Erin Ploss-Campoamor with Silvana Proenza. | Credit: Courtesy photo

Erin Ploss-Campoamor is an award-winning filmmaker, with experience in documentary, narrative, and television. She produced a feature-length thriller, "Dark Mirror" (IFC Films), which broke records as IFC’s top selling VOD of all time. Ploss-Campoamor is also the producer and co-writer of "Love & Monster Trucks," a feature length narrative film in development, for which she was a semifinalist for the Sundance Institute's Creative Producing Fellowship and the Sundance Writer’s Institute.

Latino Public Broadcasting sat down with Ploss-Campoamor on the ideation and making of "Luciela," which is featured in this year's festival. The film chronicles Luciela, a fiercely independent Latina girl who is determined to celebrate the Fourth of July with a bang.

Latino Public Broadcasting: What inspired you to make Luciela?

Erin Ploss-Campoamor: I first conceived of this story a few years ago. A friend invited me to her home in Lincoln Heights, to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July. 

If you are not familiar with Lincoln Heights, it is a mostly Latinx, mostly immigrant neighborhood, up in the hills of Los Angeles. This was not the first time I had seen fireworks in L.A. After all, I’ve lived here for over 20 years. But Lincoln Heights takes this holiday to a whole new level. The sheer quantity of fireworks exploding in the streets and backyards is extraordinary. Plus, from there you can see the official firework shows at Dodger Stadium, downtown L.A., and the rest of the city. It is truly breath-taking: a visual spectacle that is highly cinematic and absolutely unforgettable. 

But even beyond the beauty of the fireworks themselves, there was something particularly moving about the exuberance I witnessed that night as Lincoln Heights literally exploded with joy, light and noise. It felt especially poignant that I was experiencing this in a predominantly Latinx neighborhood, knowing that immigrant rights were actively under threat and xenophobia was on the rise. I loved that this community was celebrating our country’s Independence Day so loudly and proudly. Filling the sky, saying, “See us! Hear us! We are here!”

It feels like now, more than ever, we need stories of resilience in the face of terrible loss.
Erin Ploss-Campoamor

From that experience, the seeds of this story were planted. I started writing a script about a seven-year-old girl, Luciela, whose father throws the best firework shows on their block. The film starts with one of his Fourth of July parties, as Luciela snuggles with him, and enjoys the show. Cut to, a year later. Luciela is now in her backyard, alone. Her father has been deported to Mexico, and everything is turned upside down.

Then she finds his box of fireworks, hidden in the basement, and decides to take matters into her own hands...

Latino Public Broadcasting: What was it like to make Luciela?

Erin: My first draft of the script was really detailed, with lots of characters and scenes. I submitted it to several places for funding, but as the year progressed and another Fourth of July approached, I had a difficult decision to make. Should I wait and shoot the following year (the sensible approach) or should I try to shoot it that summer, even though I was home alone with two kids, while my husband was working on a film in New York?

I decided to go for it! I was lucky enough to find an amazing producer, Sharis Delgadillo, and DP, Antonio Cisneros, who made it possible for me to do a bare bones shoot on the Fourth of July that would still leave my options open for another, later shoot. We decided that our footage could work as a Proof of Concept, or if it came out well, we might even be able to use it in the actual film.

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Director Erin Ploss-Campoamor, right, with Antonio Cisneros, director of photography. | Credit: Courtesy photo

What we shot far exceeded my expectations. With just a tiny crew of four people and a few non-actors, we managed to film some beautiful footage that captured the essence of my story. It no longer had any of the supporting characters, and we had to cut several scenes, but I quickly realized that none of them were as essential as I’d originally believed. 

I was so happy with what we shot, that I decided to edit it as a stand-alone short film. But I knew it could still be improved. Which I was able to do with two pickup shoots, where we brought in some professional actors, the incredibly talented Stephanie Cervantes and Carlos Ciurlizza, to play Luciela’s parents. 

Latino Public Broadcasting: Does your film still feel relevant now?

Erin: It honestly breaks my heart to see how relevant it remains. It feels like now, more than ever, we need stories of resilience in the face of terrible loss. We need to see fireworks filling the sky, reminding us that even in the darkest hour of the night, our immigrant, Latinx communities are illuminating our lives with beauty and joy. And that patriotism is something we can all express in our own unique ways, in our ongoing struggle for justice.

“Luciela" will be streaming on from July 12-23 as part of the PBS Short Film Festival 2021.


Luciela is fiercely independent and determined to celebrate the 4th of July with a bang.

About the Author

Latino Public Broadcasting is the leader of the development, production, acquisition and distribution of non-commercial educational and cultural media that is representative of Latino people, or addresses issues of particular interest to Latino Americans.