Sin Nombre

March 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Paulina Gaitan, Edgar Flores, Luis Fernando Peña
Directed by: Cary Fukunaga (debut)
Written by: Cary Fukunaga (debut)

While many films about immigration have come and gone throughout the years, very few are compelling enough to resonate through all the recognizable tales of struggle, sacrifice, and pain most stories usually chose as their main theme. In “Sin Nombre,” however, director Cary Fukunaga is able to take a multilayered idea for the first feature film of his career and construct a terrifying and poetic world one soon won’t forget.

Atop a train going from Honduras through the length of Mexico, Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), a young Honduran girl, a travels with her brother and estranged father to the border with plans to get to New Jersey. Plans change when Sayra meets Willy (Edgar Flores) AKA Casper, a troubled young man who is traveling the rails to escape the gang he no longer wants to call his brotherhood.

Turning his back on the Mara Salvatrucha gang, however, isn’t something the group takes lightly. With members in different parts of Mexico, leaders of the gang put a mark on Willy and try to hunt him down before he can make it to the U.S. While Sayra has her own life to live, she builds a friendship with Willy during their journey. Both realize they need each other if they want to survive the tedious trip across Mexico. Portraying the protagonists of the film, Gaitan and Flores are subtly sublime in their performances and carry each other wonderfully through most of their scenes together.

With many of the scenes taking place on the top of a moving train, Fukunaga and cinematographer Adriano Goldman create a beautiful albeit lonely backdrop for our characters to understand their motivation for making such a dangerous trek for a new life. While there is little hope in the eyes of Sayra and Willy, Fukunaga delivers a stunningly confident and very authentic narrative that is both well-developed and deeply moving.

Cary Fukunaga – Sin Nombre

February 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Interviews

After his 2004 short film “Victoria para Chino,” the true story of the nation’s deadliest human smuggling attempt, which left 19 illegal immigrants dead inside a tractor-trailer in Victoria, Texas, director/writer Cary Fukunaga felt there was a lot more to say about immigration.

In his first feature film, “Sin Nombre” – produced by actors Gael García Bernal (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) and Diego Luna (“Milk”) – fukunaga follows a young girl from Honduras named Sayra (Paulina Gaitán) as she travels with her estranged father atop a train through Central America and México to get to the U.S. During her journey, she meets Willy (Edgar Flores), a member of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, who must escape México after he kills one of his own.

During an interview at the South by Southwest Film Festival, Fukunaga, 31, who is half Japanese and half Swedish, talked about his interest in the topic of immigration and what it was like riding the trains alone when he was researching for the project.

I heard you are fluent in Spanish. Where did you learn the language?

Growing up in the Bay area and México. Partially through making this film, I forced myself to make my Spanish as on-point as possible, technically especially. We did everything in Spanish on the film.

What kept you interested in immigration after you made “Victoria para Chino?”

They’re kind of the same project. Even though they’re two different stories, they’re inseparable films. The short film led to the feature film because researching for the short film, I learned about this part of the journey – the part that is less talked about.

Usually when you get a Latino-themed film, it’s by a Latino director. Did you worry that people might overlook “Sin Nombre” when they saw your last name?

I think there are some Fukunagas in México, too. (Laughs). I didn’t really even think about it. I come from a pretty multicultural background and family. In my mind, national and cultural borders don’t represent real obstacles in telling stories. I don’t think twice about that part of it. If it’s a story that interests me, I’m going to see what I can do.

What kind of research did you do particularly on the Mara Salvatrucha gang?

There was a lot of visual research. Both the makeup and production design departments had walls and walls of reference material to go by.

Did any of the real gang members you worked with on the film voice any concerns about how they were being portrayed?

No. Like Edward James Olmos after “American Me?” [Olmos was sent death threats by members of the Mexican mafia after the film debuted in 1992]. Well, I am traveling around under an alias. (Laughs). Maybe I can finally get a pistol in New York City. I actually went to the shooting range a few days ago. I’m pretty good with a .40 caliber.

Where do your characters come from? Are they composites from your research?

Everyone is a definitely composite and everyone is sort of a facet of me as well. I didn’t know I had a little homie inside me – an inner homie.

Did that attitude come out anytime during production?

Yes, when I had to lay down the law. (Laughs) Nah, I’m pretty laid back on set. I’m energetic, but I never throw tantrums or anything.

Was it your intention to make the train becomes its own character?

Especially at the beginning, I really wanted the train to feel larger than life. The night I decided to ride the train, I had to ride it by myself. My friends didn’t want to go with me after they found out how dangerous the trip was. I wanted to exaggerate and accentuate the audio and visual experience because this train is like this headless sort of creature. You don’t know who is running it. It’s like this conveyer belt in the jungle.

How many times did you ride the train? How long did it take?

Traveling across Chiapas took two nights and a day. From the Oaxaca border to Veracruz it took a whole evening and night. I rode the train three times. Each time I learned a little something. During these long boring hours, I got to hang out with immigrants and see how they passed the time and bonded with people. I was living the vagabond life. I definitely could not have written the film if I didn’t ride the train.

What does a trip like that do to you physically?

It’s definitely taxing. This film has definitely taken a couple of years [of my life] and part of my hairline. I think it really drains you more emotionally than physically. The first time I rode the train, an immigrant got killed. Being a part of that and then having to leave them was difficult. I have the luxury of continuing on with my life. They have fewer options.

Paulina Gaitan – Sin Nombre

February 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Originally from Viahermosa, Tabasco, Mexico, actress Paulina Gaitan has taken on some serious roles in both English and Spanish productions from “Voces inocentes” directed by Luis Mandoki to “Trade” starring Kevin Kline and Kate del Castillo.

In her most recently work, “Sin Nombre,” Gaitan, 17, plays a young Honduran girl named Sayra, who attempts to travel the length of Mexico to the border on top of a train with her brother and estranged father. Sayra’s plans change, however, when she meets Willy (Edgar Flores), AKA Casper, a troubled young man who is riding the rails to escape the gang he has turned his back on.

During an interview with me, Gaitan talked about her experience riding the train and how exactly she got first-time director Cary Fukunaga to cast her in the powerful lead role.

Did you feel like a veteran on the set since you had the most experience of everyone?

No, I think everyone supported each other mutually even though everyone had their different experiences.

Other than concentrating on your character, what other things were running through your mind when you rode the train?

One thing that crossed my mind was how dangerous it was to sit on top of the train. It’s extremely dangerous. We were actually tied down to the train so we wouldn’t fall off. Those were extremely difficult scenes.

Did you get to meet any of the real immigrants who ride the trains?

The majority of the immigrants were Salvadorians. I had an opportunity to listen to immigrants’ conversations but I didn’t ask any questions because I didn’t want to be disrespectful.

Did anything exciting or dangerous happen during production?

We had a lot of experiences on top of the train. The [electric] cables would pass across our bodies. One day we were up on the train riding on the back and people started screaming, “the branches, the branches!” People had to start bending down because we were getting hit by all the branches.

I read that [director] Cary [Fukunaga] wasn’t sure about casting you for the role of Sayra. How did you manage to talk him into it?

It was very difficult. Really, the problem was only in the accent and nothing else. (Fukunaga wanted a Honduran actress to play the part at first). So, I asked him to lend me a CD so I could study the accent. Then I asked him for another audition and he gave it to me. I did the accent and he gave me the role.

What is the biggest difference between American and Mexican film productions?

The money! (Laughs) No, I think it’s the same. It’s important to feel like you have a family on the set. In both Mexican and American productions, it feels that way.

Many of the films you’ve done have serious themes. Are you naturally attracted to movies with messages?

I do like them a lot. It’s like a goal of mine even though some of these stories are very sad. But I wouldn’t mind doing other roles.

Is “Sin Nombre” the proudest you’ve been of your work as an actress?

Well, in the theater I’ve done really great things but I feel that all the movies have their own qualities. I don’t think I’d be able to select any of them as my best work. All of them are different.