Writer Joseph J. Airdo
Photography Courtesy of Amoroma Productions

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t is no secret that 2020 was one of the most challenging years of all time for small businesses. However, as inspirational author Doe Zantamata once wrote, “It is only in our darkest hours that we may discover the true strength of the brilliant light within ourselves that can never ever be dimmed.”

Over the past year, Arizona’s business owners have proven the legitimacy of Zantamata’s quote, as they overcame the odds and survived the COVID-19 pandemic through determination, ingenuity and resiliency.

Their stories serve as not only personal testaments to their insurmountable strength but also messages of hope to the local community — and beyond.

Kellie Mendoza is producer and production manager of Amoroma Productions, a full-service video production company that creates video content for small businesses and organizations, commercial content for websites and event videography.

“When the world shut down in March of last year, that affected our business as well,” Mendoza says. “Everything that we were working on also came to a halt.”

Just as every other business owner in Arizona — and around the world, for that matter — was struggling to navigate the unprecedented pandemic, Mendoza and her Amoroma Productions team were also trying to determine how to proceed.

“One of our company goals last year was to create a documentary,” Mendoza says. “It was originally going to be on the wine industry here in Arizona.”

Of course, the pandemic put a kink in Amoroma Productions’ plans. But, when one door closes, another one opens — potentially to a pasture with much more prominent possibilities.

“We had heard so many sad stories about what businesses were going through and their struggles to make it through those first few months of the pandemic,” Mendoza says. “But we also heard stories of resiliency. We really enjoyed hearing that there were so many business owners in Arizona who, just for lack of a better way of putting it, would not let COVID beat them. They were determined to keep their businesses open.”

As a direct result of seeing so many resilient business owners throughout Arizona rise to the occasion, Amoroma Productions pivoted their plans into something it began referring to as The Silver Linings Project.

“The Silver Linings Project was about telling the story of those Arizona business owners and how they shifted their business structure in order to remain resilient and keep their businesses open,” Mendoza explains.

Armed with the belief that documentaries provide information about relevant topics and inspire viewers to take action, Mendoza — alongside director of photography Daniel Mendoza and director Sean Oliver — set out to make a short film that would shine a spotlight on the many business owners with incredible stories to tell and, at the same time, contribute to rebuilding the state’s local economy.

“The participants were selected by a multitude of different avenues,” Mendoza says. “We had personal and business relationships with some of them. We also put out a press release to the community in which we got 50 submissions back from various businesses and organizations with a desire to be a part of it.”

From those submissions, the Amoroma Productions team met internally in May to determine which ones to incorporate into the documentary. When all was said and done, they had interviewed a total of 32 businesses and organizations from throughout the state of Arizona — from Flagstaff to Phoenix to Tucson and everywhere in between.

“We wrapped filming in November,” says Mendoza, noting that, although the project was originally conceived as a 15-minute short film, the end result was a 75-minute full-length feature.

Amoroma Productions finished editing the documentary this past spring, unveiled its official title — “Closed for COVID: Hope and Resiliency” — and promptly began submitting it to film festivals nationwide. The first to respond was the Phoenix Film Festival, which granted the documentary a screening on its schedule.

Set for Aug. 12–22 at Harkins Scottsdale 101, the Phoenix Film Festival will serve as the world premiere of “Closed for COVID: Hope and Resiliency.” Mendoza, her entire Amoroma Productions team and the many Arizona business owners featured in the film are eager for audiences to see their stories unfold on the big screen during the Aug. 21 screening.

“We ultimately want to have the widest audience possible for all of the business owners and organizations that are part of the film,” says Mendoza, adding that she expects to hear back from additional film festivals this fall. “After the film festival route, we might take it to video-on-demand, streaming platforms or television [networks].”

The documentary itself is only one half of Amoroma Productions’ Silver Lining Project, though. The other half, fueled by the production company’s desire to give back to the community, involved giving marketable video content to the businesses that participated in “Closed for COVID: Hope and Resiliency.”

“I always knew that it was important to shop local,” Mendoza says. “But after doing this documentary and speaking to so many different business owners, I see that supporting small businesses is now more important than ever. They are essentially supporting our economy in the state of Arizona.”

According to a report commissioned last winter by the Arizona Small Business Association, small businesses in Arizona — those with 500 or fewer employees — produce $191.4 billion in annual economic activity. Additionally, they employ about 1.6 million of Arizona’s 2.9 million workers, account for 99.4% of all businesses in the state and create $71.3 billion in annual wages and income.

“The documentary is very much geared toward the community and what it is like to be a business in the state of Arizona, including how these businesses were affected by the pandemic and how they were able to continue on,” says Mendoza, noting that she believes open-mindedness and recognizing the need early on to shift business systems were key to the businesses’ survival.

“I think about the sense of community that the state of Arizona has. We are such a diverse community. We are such a giving community. We are such a resilient community. It has been extremely uplifting to be on this journey with all of these businesses and to be able to create this documentary project on their behalf.”