PARK CITY, Utah – Gael Garcia Bernal has journeyed north to the Sundance Film Festival to share the tragic story of another traveler.
The Mexican actor is a producer on the immigration documentary “Who Is Dayani Cristal?,” in which Bernal also appears on-screen to dramatize the path that the film’s subject took to the United States.
Bernal and director Marc Silver sought to unravel the mystery of a body found rotting in the Arizona desert in August 2010.
The films blends interviews and conventional documentary segments with Bernal’s travels through Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico to reveal the circumstances that led the man on a 2,000-mile trek that ended in the desert. And it provides a tearful answer for its title when it reveals the identity of Dayani Cristal.
Bernal and Silver said the intent was to put a human face on one of the anonymous hundreds who have died in the Arizona desert seeking better lives in the United States.
Americans often think the trail of illegal immigration begins in Mexico just south of the border, but the film recounts a perilous journey on rafts, along remote trails and on the top of trains. Migrants can fall asleep and tumble off train cars to their deaths. Gangs might rob, abduct or kill them. And they face the constant chance of being caught and sent back home – where, as one migrant along the way tells Bernal, they simply start all over again.
“We hear about this or we see it from a distance, but it’s very rare you get to see it from firsthand experience,” Bernal told the film’s audience after a Friday screening, the day after it premiered as part of the 11-day festival’s opening-night lineup.
The film reveals the story of a man with a wife and three young children, a hard worker who toiled in corn and bean fields but had made repeated trips across the border to find better work to support his family.
The documentary also captures a cruel irony: once it’s been identified, the body is sent by plane back home at the Honduran government’s expense, a trip of a few hours compared to the 58-day trek it took to reach Arizona. “Who Is Dayani Cristal?” is one of 16 entries in the festival’s world documentary competition.