These kids were bound and determined to go on the train, so what we had to do was document that this is happening and it's happening with young kids as well as adults.
What brought you to this subject?
Well, initially, I knew nothing about child migration. A friend suggested I look into it, and after researching the subject, I found it was an extremely compelling story that had not been told in documentary film. Since 2003, there have been a number of films that have tackled the subject. But back in 2002 when I first started, there really wasn't much. So I thought an in-depth was necessary.
How did you befriend your subjects?
Through research and scouting the story there were certain places we went where migrants congregate in order to travel north. I don't think people who are migrating are often asked what their troubles are or why they're going.
There are many reasons why people risk the dangerous journey north to reach America. Yurico mentions that he hopes to "born again." Was that unusual among the stories you heard?
I didn't expect that. I guess on some level, I thought maybe they'd have more practical reasons for going. And for some like Yurico, he just wanted to change his life. He didn't want to live on the streets anymore. He didn't want to be on drugs. The United States represented that change for him. And to say "I want to be born again" and "I'll find a family that will love me" is a strong reason for anyone to take such a dangerous journey. And he was willing to take that risk because his life then wasn't going anywhere. He couldn't find a way out of that downward spiral he was in. So leaving Mexico was going to be that great change for him; he was going to do something to try and make his life better. And because of that, he's a bit like a hero for me.
I hope people can remember the history of what our country is based upon, and maybe have a more compassionate view toward people who are attempting this journey now.
Filming on top of moving freight trains seems very intrepid. What was that like for you and your production team?
Filming the children was a little problematic because we were documenting them waiting around for the train, but at the same time we were trying to inform them about how dangerous the journey was. We told them we couldn't transport them or feed them or help them along the journey. But at the same time they should know what the risks are, and if they felt it was too scary or they wanted to stop, we would work to help get them home. We always wanted them to feel like they had a choice. But these kids were bound and determined to go on the train, so what we had to do was document that this is happening and it's happening with young kids as well as adults.
That being said, we spent as little time on the trains as possible. It was a challenge to document what was going on and at the same time give these children a choice. We were lucky though because one of the train companies allowed us to affix our cameras so we were able to get those tunnel sequence shots from the front of the engine, so we did not go through the tunnels at the same time the kids did. While it's a beautiful journey, it's extremely dangerous.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
The reason why I worked to make this film, and why my producers and every crew member worked on the film is to educate viewers about this situation. It's very dangerous, and people put themselves in precarious situations because they really don't have any other choices.
I don't think we can put aside the fact that children are suffering and dying on this journey. So, I really want this film to be used as a tool for urging positive immigration reform, because children are dying. What side of the immigration debate you're on doesn't really matter to me. What matters is that people are given a document they can look at and really see what's going on, and maybe have a bit more compassion for the people who are trying to get here.
It's interesting because they're not so very different than the vast majority of people who immigrated to the U.S. decades ago.
Well, let's not forget our history. Our own relatives came to the United States to fulfill their dreams and better their lives. These people are doing exactly the same thing. I hope people can remember the history of what our country is based upon, and maybe have a more compassionate view toward people who are attempting this journey now.
2009 Documentary Films Series