Cary Fukunaga’s debut film Sin Nombre, an epic thriller about immigration, won the 2009 U.S. dramatic directing award and the cinematography award at the Sundance Film Festival.
Sin Nombre, which means “without a name,” follows the story of El Casper (Edgar M. Flores), a member of the La Mara gang in Mexico, and Sayra (Paulina Gaytan), the daughter of a Honduran family that is attempting to illegally immigrate into the United States. Casper and Sayra’s lives intersect on a train headed for America.
In a recent interview the thirty-two year-old Fukunaga explains that he “stumbled upon” the subject of immigration and the conditions in Latin America that inspire so many to immigrate into the United States while he was developing one of his student films, Victoria Para Chino, in 2004.
Fukunaga says that his experience as a Japanese American might also have influenced him as it certainly made him acutely aware of racial intolerance. “Growing up with a name like Fukunaga,” he said, “you get the question ‘what the hell are you?’”
When asked about how much funding he’d received for the film, Fukunaga answered, “well, let me put it this way. You have a first time feature length film director, doing a film in Spanish, with no stars. What do you think?”
Clearly, though, Fukunaga managed to work very effectively in spite of whatever financial constraints were placed upon him. Remarkable also is that most of the film was inspired by first-hand experience.
Fukunaga spent time in Central America dong research, “I was interviewing government anthropologists, members of gangs, I rode the train across from Chiapas to the northern border.” According to Fukunaga, the prisoners proved to be “excellent copy editors,” and assisted him with writing dialogue that was accurate to the unique dialects, which Fukunaga strived to preserve for the film.
Some of the members of the cast had worked professionally on Mexican soap operas. This presented a unique obstacle for Fukunaga who had to “take out of them what was required for other projects…I wanted them to under emote some scenes, and bring out more subtlety in their acting.”
Some members of the cast, such as Edgar Flores, had no previous acting experience. Fukunaga said that he had to dedicate a large portion of his time on set to, “working directly with Edgar…A lot of it was antagonism from me to get him pissed off for the shoot. The goal was to be as natural as possible.”
Fukunaga says he also, “wasn’t consciously referencing any other filmmakers.” However he was consciously avoiding some aesthetic practices of other film makers. He says he, “wanted to avoid the shaky hand held camera, smaller shutter, under saturated and over saturated colors. I wanted something more naturalistic and slower paced.”
While the film does explore the hardships of traveling illegally from Central America into the United States, Fukunaga insists that he is not trying to push any perspective on the issue, or “tell the audience how to feel.”
Rather, he wants the audience “to feel like they’re on the journey with the characters. If the film does manage to make some ultraconservative woman from Arizona who believes all illegal entrants should be shot…feel some compassion for a character like Casper,” his film has been successful. “You can maintain your opinion after,” Fukunaga says, “but I want you to go through it with them.”
Gael Garcia Bernal, well known for his appearances in films by Pedro Almodovar and for his recent portrayal of Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries, was an executive producer for the film.
Many members of the production crew were also members of the production crew for Mel Gibson’s Apocylpto. Fukunaga remembers soccer matches breaking out between members of the crew. “They even had uniforms,” Fukunaga says. For the soccer games, Fukunaga was “adopted as an honorary Mexican.”
Sin Nombre manages to explore the humanity of the issue, without offering any oversimplified conclusion about the issue of illegal immigration into the United States. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing more from Fukunaga in the near future.