Conversation with . . . Cary Fukunaga

27 03 2009

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Every once in awhile, a new filmmaker will create some new work that transcends the usual formulaic Hollywood fare. First time director Cary Fukunaga’s new film, “Sin Nombre” has been one of the industry’s worst kept secrets since it’s explosion at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Writer Edward Douglas sat down with the young autuer whose first first feature film “Sin Nombre” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it received awards for its direction and cinematography.

Click on image above to watch the “Sin Nombre” trailer.

While on the surface, “Sin Nombre” might seem like “just another immigration movie,” it’s really a film that uses immigration as a backdrop to follow the journey of two teens through the violent world in which they live. Fukunaga’s debut is more about creating realism and depth in these characters and their situation than trying to jump on any political bandwagon, owing more to Joshua Marston’s “Maria Full of Grace” or Fernando Meirelles’ “City of God” than any of the other recent immigration movies.

The film follows Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), a Honduran teen traveling through Mexico with her father and uncle on their way to the United States, and Casper (Edgar Flores), a member of a notorious Mexican Mara Salvatrucha gang, a life he decides to leave behind when his leader Lil’ Mago (Tenoch Mejîa) does something despicable and unforgivable. A chance meeting of these three characters on a train traveling through the slums of Mexico leads to a fate that brings Casper and Sayra together as they’re pursued by local gangs.

The realism of the film’s characters and environment are even more amazing when you realize that Fukunaga used traditional filmmaking techniques to realize his vision, casting every role both from established local actors and non-actors, as well as creating most of the environments in a different area of the country rather than trying to film in the real places where these stories take place all the time.

Douglas sat down with Fukunaga to talk about the origins and obstacles involved with bringing his evocative coming-of-age “migration” story to life.

I didn’t know much about this movie before seeing it, but it did almost appear out of nowhere. It was at Sundance and just days earlier, Focus announced that it would be released in March, but you must have been working on it for a long time under the radar.
Cary Joji Fukunaga: Focus got involved actually as of February 2006, so they’ve been involved for a while. I don’t know what their strategy was. Like you said, they hadn’t talked about it much. I remember when we were going into Sundance was kinda like, “Are we ever gonna get a website?” But they know what they’re doing, so it’s being talked about now I guess.

Did they get interested in doing something with you after seeing your short film?
Fukunaga: Well, they knew about the short film. I’d already written the script by that point out of the Sundance Labs and out of the Sundance Labs is when they became involved.

Anyone watching this movie and its Central-American cast would automatically assume it was made by a Mexican director, so what is your actual background and how did you get involved with telling this story?
Fukunaga: I’m not Mexican and I’m not Central American. I’m from California. My dad is from Japanese descent, my mom is from Swedish descent and through marriages and divorces, a pretty multicultural family, a lot of Spanish speakers in the family. I didn’t grow up wanting to do an immigration film. It’s just something I sort of fell into and through a series of events, I sort of became an accidental tourist in this world after making a short film and then ultimately writing a feature film that’s pretty far from my experience, my life. Through research, I was able to really immerse myself in it, so a lot of what I researched is on the screen.

Click here to read the rest of the Fukunaga interview.

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