SUNDANCE: Directors Tease 'The Square,' 'American Promise,' 'Pit Stop,' 'A River Changes Course,' 'This Is Martin Bonner,' 'Who Is Dayani Cristal'

Who is Dayani Cristal by Director Marc Silver [World Documentary Competition]


August 3, 2010, Pima County, Arizona—Deep in the sun-blistered Sonora desert beneath a cicada tree, border police discover a decomposing male body. Lifting a tattered T-shirt, they expose a tattoo that reads "Dayani Cristal." Who is this person? What brought him here? How did he die? And who—or what—is Dayani Cristal?

Marc Silver’s masterful documentary assembles the answers to these questions using beautifully realized dramatic sequences with famed actor Gael García Bernal. Silver and Bernal reconstruct this John Doe, denied an identity at his point of death, into a living and breathing human being with a full and deeply engaging life story. Unfolding like a thrilling crime drama, the film builds to an emotionally devastating climax. Who Is Dayani Cristal? tells the story of one migrant who found himself in that deadly stretch of desert known as “the corridor of death” and how one life becomes testimony to the tragic results of the U.S. war on immigration. [Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival]

Who Is Dayani Cristal quick pitch:
An anonymous body in the Arizona desert sparks the beginning of a real-life human drama. The search for identity leads us back across a continent to seek out the people left behind and the meaning of a mysterious tattoo.

…and why it's worth checking out at Sundance:
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.

Returning with no coffin:
The most challenging moment for me was when I returned with the body to Honduras. The airline had actually left the body in a U.S. airport when we transited because the plane was full, and they insisted on carrying 'luggage before bodies'.  I arrived in Honduras to meet 30 family members waiting at the airport, and the cargo handler explaining to all of us that there was no coffin on the plane.  When eventually the body was returned home and the community were lowering the coffin into the grave, many people were demanding that the coffin be opened so that they could ensure it was actually the right person in the coffin.

There have been stories of the wrong body being returned to the wrong family. I remember turning the camera off as they attempted to unscrew the coffin lid - but fortunately it was the wrong type of screwdriver and the coffin remained sealed.

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