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Winner of the Sundance 2013 Cinematography award and nominated in the World Documentary Competition, Who is Dayani Cristal? follows the discovery, identification, and repatriation of a migrant found dead under a cicada tree 20 minutes south of Tucson.
In recognition of World Refugee Day, the World Policy Institute hosted a film screening and salon on June 11th that brought together the film’s producers and immigration experts for a discussion of global migration issues. World Policy Institute President Michele Wucker moderated the discussion with Lina Srivastava and Sarnata Reynolds. The following are extracts from their conversation:
WUCKER: How does this movie strike you personally and how does that inform how you want people to respond?
SRIVASTAVA: We started working on this film in 2008, even before we saw Dilcy Yohan Sandres-Martinez [the dead Honduran migrant]. I’ve never seen it as you see it. It’s always been in development in my mind.
REYNOLDS: It’s always amazing to see the exhaustion on the face of the mother and the brother and the wife as the coffin arrives. And that exhaustion is exactly the face that I hate to see; I just want it to end. I think this is a cyclical issue. It’s not just about the country of origin or the hopeful country. It’s a story that’s also been told off the coast of North Africa. It’s a story that brings out pain and hope.
WUCKER: There is a surge in unaccompanied minors coming across. You think about how hard it is for an adult and then you think about children and teenagers. In the past eight months, agents have apprehended 47,000 unaccompanied minors trying to cross the borders and that’s predicted to double in the coming year. With that set of facts in mind, do you think it’s possible the film can influence how policies are applied to those children?
SRIVASTAVA: Mark Silver showed this film in the community where the film is set. They are going to show this film again throughout Honduras, Guatemala, etc. targeted to youth, specifically. We’re going to create a survey and use peer-to-peer dialog to talk about the factors that make them need to leave and want to leave. Is the desert a deterrent? Is the wall a deterrent? They’re leaving at younger ages now, often accompanied. The average age is 12, and they don’t tell their parents what the journey is like. We want to prevent this need to migrate. We’re trying to work with mothers of those who have disappeared in the migratory process.
WUCKER: What has been the policy impact in the U.S.?
SRIVASTAVA: When we first started thinking about immigration, it was politically and legislatively dead. Then, in 2013, the film comes out at Sundance and the first inkling of immigration reform is revived in Congress. Since then, it’s been a roller coaster of immigration reform. We showed it twice in Congress with the hope of creating humanitarian standards.
WUCKER: How do you make the connection between the amazingly powerful emotions and turning that into policy changes?
REYNOLDS: The film humanizes the people are who are crossing the border. The migration that’s occurring is because of something that’s happening in those countries, and America plays a role too. The U.S. passed a law in 1996 that allows the government to deport anyone with a crime record, even in the slightest. The U.S. ended up deporting all of our criminals and mafia members to Mexico and Guatemala, sending our criminal issues to these countries.
World Policy Journal also led a live Twitter chat about the film. View the story “WPJ Twitter Chat #DayaniCristal” on Storify
This discussion is part of the World Policy Salon series, which are made possible through the support of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung North America. World Policy Salons promote dialogue among the next generation of leaders in business, policy, and the media, regularly convening mid-career professionals to discuss a range of foreign policy issues and global affairs.
Michele Wucker was President of the World Policy Institute, a New York based center for global policy thought leadership, and Publisher of World Policy Journal. In 2007, she oversaw the re-incorporation of the World Policy Institute as a free-standing organization after its separation from The New School, a New York City based university.