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Sin Nombre - Cary Fukunaga interview

Cary Fukunaga directs Sin Nombre

Interview by Rob Carnevale

CARY Fukunaga talks about some of the challenges of making Sin Nombre, an award-winning film about the immigrant experience as told from the perspectives of a Honduran teenage girl and a Mexican gang member on board a train headed for the US border…

Q. You’ve said that you felt you had to earn the right to make Sin Nombre and decided to partake in the same kind of train journeys as the immigrants you portray. That’s an interesting attitude…
Cary Fukunaga: I don’t believe you have to earn the right to make a film in general but I was wary of the fact that doing films about social subjects… sometimes I find that I question the altruism of people who do. I kind of stumbled into this subject and I knew that I was making a fictional film, but not for a charity or anything like that. I knew it would change my life, and that I didn’t want to make a film on the misery and suffering of others. So, part of that was experiencing the journey and having it become as much a part of my experience as possible. I could then tell it from my own perspective.

Q. So how life changing was it?
Cary Fukunaga: It’s hard to gauge. I can remember all the emotion on the faces of pretty much everybody and I remember the emotional effect after some of these events… the ups and downs and the highs and lows. I think I wouldn’t have the film that I have now and I wouldn’t have been able to make the film as I made it had I not done those trips. I don’t know if I’ll continue doing that kind of preparation or not, but it was certainly something I don’t regret doing and I think I’ll value the experiences I’ve had.

Q. How many train journeys did you take in total?
Cary Fukunaga: Three…

Q. And which was the most memorable?
Cary Fukunaga: The first two were the most influential. I’d already written a script by the second one but I went back anyway because I think I enjoyed the experience of it. I can say that the danger element of it is something that intrigued me. At the same time, it was very difficult because each time I travelled it was very hard to say goodbye and keep on going with my life.

Q. How difficult was it to get access from the gang members you approached? I gather some were reluctant to talk and also closed ranks and gave you a set line…
Cary Fukunaga: That was pretty common but then I was able to work through a lot of their stuff. I had enough research and stories from other gang members that the more I had, the more I could say what I knew. And they’d be surprised sometimes by what I knew of how things worked and they’d be more willing to talk to me because they knew I’d done my homework. They were more wary of speaking to journalists who were just interested in getting sensational stories to print and then making them seem like demons. I’m not saying they’re good people but at the same time the newspapers at that time especially, around 2005, were blaming every known criminal act on the gangs… even if it was bandits and not gangs.

Q. Did you have any run-ins with gangs during the course of filming?
Cary Fukunaga: There was one time we were shooting in Vera Cruz and I knew that there was an 18th Street Gang on the other side of the tracks, and they knew we were doing a Mara Salvatrucha movie, so they came out on the set and they beat each other up… two guys from the same gang beat each other up to show us what real men were.

Q. How encouraging was it to win awards at Edinburgh [best new director] and Sundance [best director]?
Cary Fukunaga: It’s the same thing. I try to ignore those kinds of awards. I give them to my producer and have her take them. I don’t want to see them in my front room.

Q. Would you do the same with an Oscar?
Cary Fukunaga: I don’t think I’d put it out [smiles]. It would just feel too weird. I’ve never been one to keep trophies unless they look really cool – although an Oscar does look pretty cool. Awards are a tricky thing. I’d prefer to win awards later on, rather than early on in life. It allows you to build towards something. If you win awards early on, it’s almost like what are you going to do for the next 20 or 30 years? You might be living on past glories. So, I’d like to have a nice slow rise. I’d like to be making movies for the next 30 years.

Q. Have you noticed that the success of Sin Nombre has opened doors in terms of financing for future projects?
Cary Fukunaga: I’m not sure if that’s true. No one’s come along and told me they want to give me $5 million for my next film. I would know which script to give them then.

Q. Is that the musical you’re writing?
Cary Fukunaga: I am writing a musical but I also wrote a child soldier script that I really like but no one’s biting on that one right now. It’s a bit dark and we’re in dark times. I’d compare it to… it’s a more linguid story about being a child soldier – a little bit like Behind The Sun. I’d probably go outside of the US or look for independent financing. But I’m also working on the musical for Focus at the same time. And I’m really excited about the story because as opposed to Sin Nombre and the child soldier one, I’m not beholden to any kind of fact checking. I can just really make up all the worlds and use my imagination.

Q. What kind of world is it set in?
Cary Fukunaga: Sort of half of it is set in this contemporary, not-too-distant future metropolis that looks like a lot of different cities that can’t really be identified as one. It’s a love story that his boy from that world has with this girl from a different dimension. I’m in the process of writing that now but I’m excited that Focus has allowed me do to this as an original. It’s not based on anything thats out there. So, I’m really excited to see how we’re going to develop it together because they really want to be involved. And it’s also allowing me to study musicology and learn a whole new subject. I like to treat each film as if it’s a new specialised degree.

Q. Will you be writing the music too?
Cary Fukunaga: I’m writing a little libretto so to speak [smiles]. But I’m in talks with a very talented indie musician and composer that I think is perfect for this film.

Q. What’s your most lasting memory from the Sin Nombre shooting experience?
Cary Fukunaga: Probably the time off with the crew. We were really tight and I got along really well with everyone. There was a lot of love on set. We’d have these big huge soccer matches at the end of the week. There was even uniforms made. A lot of pool parties on Saturday nights for bonding. I’m a terrible soccer player, by the way. They quickly learned that when they put me on the field [laughs]. So, we started creating side basketball matches as well because that’s what I play.

Read our review of Sin Nombre