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Meet the 2013 Sundance Filmmakers #48: Gael Garcia Bernal and Marc Silver Tackle Migration in the Hybrid Doc, ‘Who is Dayani Cristal?’

Meet the 2013 Sundance Filmmakers #48: Gael Garcia Bernal and Marc Silver Tackle Migration in the Hybrid Doc, 'Who is Dayani Cristal?'

Marc Silver’s acclaimed opening night documentary, “Who is Dayani Cristal?,” tells the true story of one migrant worker who found himself in that deadly stretch of desert known as the “corridor of death,” to provide a tragic testimony to the results of the U.S. war on immigration. Silver does so by using beautifully realized dramatic sequences with famed actor Gael García Bernal (who also served as a producer on the film). Below, Silver and Bernal tell Indiewire about the process of making their hybrid documentary.

What’s Your Film About? “One of the main factors that has shaped the history of mankind and the planet: Migration.” – Gael García Bernal

Now what’s it REALLY about? “Yeah, that’s kind of what it is about; the body of a migrant, found in the desert of Arizona. Tracing back where he comes from and at the same time, us (as filmmakers and migrants) doing the journey from Honduras all the way to the United States.” – Gael García Bernal

“The story I set out to tell was less of a who done it, but rather a what happened. What drives people to leave their homes and set out on one of the most dangerous journeys in the world?  And how do they end up alone and dying in such an inhospitable part of the planet? I did not want to make a film that added to the rhetoric that surrounds immigration, but rather tell a story that almost transcends politics and instead inspires audiences all over the world to ask themselves what they would have done for their own family if they were in a similar situation. I wanted to craft a narrative that built identity as the story unfolded – that ‘re-humanised’ and turned someone with no identity at the beginning into a living breathing human being by the end. ” – Marc Silver

Tell Us About Your Backgrounds: “I was born in Mexico. I’ve been a migrant for a long time now. I plan on still being one. Maybe that’s the reason why I ended up being am actor; I get to migrate into many lives within my own life. I decided that acting was going to be my career at the age of 20 even though I was already working in films and in plays. “- Gael García Bernal

“I’m an independent filmmaker, director of photography and creative producer whose diverse range of films focus on social and human rights issues across the world. My portfolio includes the Amnesty International produced short film ‘A Life on Hold’ about 17-year-old Libyan refugee Omar, Channel 4 documentary ‘Burning Man: Chaos or Community’ and ‘The Torch’, a recent short about his hometown of London revealing the impact of the London riots and the Olympics on those who live in one of the poorest UK neighborhoods. My emotive and often highly provocative films paint an intimate portrait of the individual within the wider context of some of the most contentious social issues. I’ve created content for the BBC, Channel 4, Universal Music, The Guardian, Amnesty International, UNHCR, UNICEF and The Global Fund and collaborated with artists such as Nitin Sawhney, Michael Nyman, Jamie Cullum, Ben Okri, Matthew Herbert and Cirque Du Soleil.” – Marc Silver

Biggest Challenge In Bringing This Documentary to the Screen: “Finding the story was the single biggest challenge. Marc Silver, Thomas Benski, Lucas Ochoa and myself, wanted to do a film about this issue, but finally after a lot of brainstorming and investigation (and Marc Silver’s ability to be there at the right time) we found what the story was going to be about. Maybe in a way the story found us.” – Gael García Bernal

“The biggest challenge was the statistical odds against us.  Of the 2000 bodies recovered from the desert over the last decade, 700 still remain unidentified. The large majority of migrants do not carry any form of identification. It takes a huge amount of time and effort across several agencies and countries to repatriate remains to families.  We wanted to tell a story that followed the whole process – from the discovery of someone in the desert, to the forensic investigation into their identity, to finding their family, to returning the body to the family, and being there at the funeral.  On top of this, we wanted to find a family and a community who would want to share their story and emotions with us, and in turn, humanise the dialogue around immigration.” – Marc Silver

What do you want Sundance audiences to take away from this film? “I hope that we have created a documentary film that allows the audience the chance to leave the cinema with a feeling of deep empathy – that shifts their perspective on any prejudices they may have towards so called ‘illegals’ and ‘aliens’.  I want them to ask themselves how far they would go for their own family if push came to shove? I want them to look at migrants in the knowledge that their journey did not just start easily on the other side of the Wall, but that they had to leave loved ones for very universal reasons, whilst hoping they will survive an incredibly dangerous journey across Mexico and into the U.S.  And all this before they even try and get a job. I want them to feel proud of the humanitarian work Americans are doing in helping to end other peoples’ pain by repatriating remains to families.” – Marc Silver

“Well, that they think it’s a brilliant movie and that its stays with them long enough for the film to have a resonance in each person. Lets see where it takes us. Writing down expectations is bad luck. So I better stop.” -Gael García Bernal

Did any specific films inspire you in the making of this movie? “Yes. Many documentaries and some short films that we had already done about this issue. Check them out on YouTube: they are called “Los Invisibles”. – Gael García Bernal

What’s next for you? “Lets see where this film takes us. We are not done yet and the journey still continues. I like this about documentaries; they never seem to end. “ – Gael García Bernal

“I’m currently developing a new feature-length documentary about the profound effects of drinking ayahuasca, a powerful psychedelic brew made by Amazonian shamans.” – Marc Silver

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2013 festival.

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