Cary Fukunaga: Sin Nombre
Writer and director Cary Fukunaga won this year’s Sundance Film Festival award for Best Director. His debut feature film Sin Nombre follows the illegal traffic of South American immigrants entering the US on the roofs of trains.
LF: What made you want to tell this story?
CF: I’d just made the short film Victoria para chino and whilst doing research for that I learnt about the Central American part of immigration, which is the riding of the freight trains across Mexico. It was something I hadn’t imagined happening so close to our borders. I never really considered what immigration was like before people got to the border, and there were just so many elements about it that were so inherently dramatic without having to embellish.
LF: What made you want to develop it into a feature film?
CF: It was just something that if I hadn’t seen it - and I was a fairly educated person - then there must be lot of people that don’t know about this. Films that are about things we’re not familiar with, that are happening right next door, are somehow fascinating.
LF: As part of your research you travelled aboard a freight train going between Mexico and Texas. Can you tell us a bit about that experience?
CF: Everything that happens to the family on the train, like getting attacked, are based on [real events]. I needed to see those things in order to tell the story well. I think that the fear and the vulnerability that I experienced riding on the train helped inform that.
LF: Did you spend a lot of time researching the gangs involved in immigration?
CF: I spent about two years with two guys [who were in prison] who I felt I could trust the most, and kind of become friends with in the process. One of them got me into contact with guys out of prison, so I could observe them and see how they interacted, see how they talked to each other, ask what they were into and what their hopes were, if they were in love, things like that.
LF: Were you intimidated?
CF: No I wasn’t that intimated by them because I wasn’t really worried that they’d kill me, I don’t have any beef with them. It was tense only in moments when we were trying to make contact with people and the only thing we had to go by was their nickname.
LF: What was it like filming with hundreds of people on top of trains?
CF: Nerve-racking that someone would get hurt or killed! And complicated because we could only afford about five days with the real train and about 30% of the film is on the train. So without shooting with story boards, trying to have the film put together in my head was a very stressful process.
LF: How did you find Edgar and Paulina who play the lead roles of El Casper and Sayra?
CF: Paulina I found through traditional casting about a year before we started shooting. Edgar - this kid from a hard-core neighbourhood - just walked in on the casting. Tenoch who plays Lil Mago had been in Gael García Bernal’s film. The guy who plays Scarface in the film, is a big theatre guy in Mexico City and we were having drinks one night four weeks before shooting and I hadn’t cast anyone in my film yet, and he’s like, ‘f**k man you need to start casting!’ and I’m like, ‘I’m just not happy yet, I just don’t know,’ and then I said, ‘but I’ve got a role for you.’
LF: Where did the title Sin Nombre come from?
CF: I first heard it in an article about memorials on the borders between Mexico and the United States for immigrants who had died without documentation - so they didn’t know who they were. Mexicans started to put up crosses that said ‘Sin Nombre,’ which means nameless. It was a temporary title that stuck because it worked philosophically; for both gangs who changed their names to nicknames, and immigrants who weren’t represented.
LF: What do you want people to take away from watching it?
CF: When I was growing up I would watch films that would stick with me and make me want to know more about the subject and I hope it does something along those lines. Also, if I can get people to empathise for people they would never imagine empathising with, like a murderous gang member, then that’s some kind of an accomplishment.
LF: What are you working on next?
CF: I’m writing a new script which is a fantasy musical in English.
LF: Why a musical? How did that come about?
CF: Maybe it was a joke at first and then something I just started getting serious with. I really just wanted to do something completely different and challenge myself, but also because I just really love music. I just want to do something that doesn’t need to be fact checked.
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