2013 Sundance Docs in Focus: WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL?

dayaniToday’s first profile covers the final film in the 2013 World Cinema Documentary Competition: From the UK, Marc Silver’s WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL?, powerful, humanistic look at the impact of US immigration south of the border.

Sundance Program Description:

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.

Some Background:
This marks Silver’s feature debut. His previous work includes collaborations with a range of creative artists, from Michael Nyman to Cirque Du Soleil. Among his producers are Lucas Ochoa and Thomas Benski, Sundance alums as producers of SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS (2012), and Gael Garcia Bernal, who has been to Sundance as both an actor and producer several times (NO (2013), ABEL (2010), SIN NOMBRE (2009), RUDO Y CURSI (2009), THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP (2006), THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES (2004), DOT THE I (2003), Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN (2002)). Executive producers include Impact Partners’ Dan Cogan (past Sundance docs include HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE (2012), THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (2012), HELL AND BACK AGAIN (2011), SECRETS OF THE TRIBE (2010), NO IMPACT MAN (2009), THE RECRUITER (2008), SECRECY (2008), as well as this year’s US Documentary Competition title AMERICAN PROMISE), Lilly Hartley (VERSAILLES), Jeffrey Tarrant (VERSAILLES and SMASH HIS CAMERA (2010)), BRITDOC’s Jess Search (THE END OF THE LINE (2009), THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD (2009), UNKNOWN WHITE MALE (2005), and 2013 US Doc Competition title DIRTY WARS), and Teddy Leifer (THE INVISIBLE WAR (2012), KNUCKLE (2011), THE INTERRUPTERS (2011), ROUGH AUNTIES (2008)).

Why You Should Watch:
Screening as the Day One selection from the World Cinema Documentary Competition, Silver’s film brings a much-needed spotlight to immigration in the wake of US economic policy. The doc, however, wisely focuses on one person’s story, digging deeper than statistics typically allow in order to connect the viewer with an individual, his trials, and the people whose lives he affected. It’s a potent, and poignant, reminder of the humanity behind the labels of “illegal immigrants” or “undocumented workers,” simultaneously complex in its indepth investigation of a death, and effectively simple in its understated experiential approach of a life unnecessarily lost too soon.

More Info:
For more information on the doc, visit its website and Facebook page. For Silver and Bernal’s thoughts on their film, check out their Indiewire interview. For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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