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  • Who is Dayani Cristal?

    by Carol Blythe

    In March, I had the opportunity to preview a very challenging documentary with the Interfaith Immigration Coalition. Who is Dayani Cristal?” opens deep in the Sonora

    10154937 745979935423332 1090045652905824465 n.jpgdesert beneath a cicada tree where the Arizona border police discover a male body.

    Lifting a tattered T-shirt, they expose a tattoo that reads “Dayani Cristal.” The film then leads us on a journey to discover who this person is and why he died in the Arizona desert. The unique tattoo plays an important and sad part in this journey.

    The movie follows two tracks and alternates between the two stories. On the one hand, the movie follows the efforts of the staff from the Pima County Morgue in Arizona to give this anonymous man an identity. These sections of the movie also educate the viewer about U.S. policies that have resulted in an increase in immigrant deaths. One physician in the morgue wonders how many people must die in these desert crossings before the U.S. public will pay attention.

    As the forensic investigation unfolds, however, the movie also follows an actor and activist, Gael Garcia Bernal, as he retraces this man’s steps along the migrant trail in Central America. As Bernal journeys from Honduras through Mexico to the U.S., he meets other migrant travelers. The discussions he has with them illuminated for me why people continue to come to the U.S. even through the dangerous Arizona dessert. You also hear how the harsh immigration policies of the last 10 years have affected these individuals personally.

    The movie reinforced my commitment to work for comprehensive just and humane immigration reform. I found the human story very profound and very touching. It was heart breaking to learn what the tattoo meant to the man who died. The movie also provided me with more factual information about immigration.

    For individuals or congregations who want to learn more about immigration policies and stories from immigrants, this movie provides a helpful combination of facts and personal stories and I recommend it highly to your congregation.


    More information:

    Winner of the Sundance 2013 Cinematography award and nominated in the World Documentary Competition, “Who is Dayani Cristal?” has been described by The Hollywood Reporter as “A deeply moving doc [which] finds a new way of making the immigration debate personal.”

    From the New York Film Festival: Immigration is now on everyone’s mind. . . Director Marc Silver and producer Gael Garcia Bernal have devised a startling hybrid documentary that looks at the issue from the most basic human vantage point. . . Measured, meditative and scrupulously constructed, alternately sobering and enlightening, Who Is Dayani Cristal? describes a possible, terrible fate experienced by scores of people every year.

    More information about the film can be found at Please encourage your networks to learn more about the film. To access the film for your network — and if you don’t plan to charge admission — contact Elizabeth Sheldon at to purchase a low-cost community screening license for events in congregations and community spaces.