Who Is Dayani Cristal? focuses on the attempt to identify human remains in Arizona, revealing the plight of migrant workers attempting to enter the United States. After a three-year consultative process with the community depicted in the film and a carefully selected set of NGO partners, the Who Is Dayani Cristal? team developed an impact plan focused on three areas of concentration that placed the participation and voice of the community at the heart of the team’s social impact efforts. They worked with national rights organizations and with teams in Arizona responsible for identifying and repatriating of bodies found in the desert. They also supported local, national and regional organizations to strengthen their capacity to advocate for migrant rights, connected with advocacy organizations and lawmakers, and engaged the wider public. Digital assets were designed to educate and humanize around a selected set of systemic migration issues, which the filmmakers devised and tested in collaboration with the film’s NGO partners. The filmmakers also used the film’s reach to facilitate key relationships that led to the founding of the Colibrí Center for Human Rights, who are now working to set up a transnational cultural and forensics database. Colibrí has, in part, developed under the aegis of the social impact campaign for Who Is Dayani Cristal? and would not have been possible without the film. The team also worked directly with community members in Honduras to help them with water access and strengthening their primary/secondary school.
- Premier: Sundance Film Festival 2013, winning the World Cinematography Award
- Primary website: http://whoisdayanicristal.com/
Who Is Dayani Cristal? tells the story of one undocumented migrant who left home in search of work and instead met death in the Arizona desert. Mexican artist and activist Gael García Bernal traces the main character’s migration route, starting from his home in Honduras to the place he died in the desert. The ability to trace a dead migrant’s path is uncommon, since it is rare that migrants carry personal ID. Identification documents open migrants to the danger of being targeted by cartels or traffickers, or by government authorities, so when they perish in transit, their families are left with the agony of unanswered questions. Governments have failed these families with inadequate tracking and repatriation of deceased and missing persons. The unknown man, though he would eventually be identified as Dilcy Yohan Sandres Martinez of El Escanito, Honduras, comes to represent the issues faced by all migrants who follow his path.
Foundation sources of funding for production: Ford Foundation, BritDoc Foundation, Oak Foundation, Impact Partners
- Outreach Budget: $558,000
- Facebook Likes: 6,805
- Twitter Followers: 1,685
Impact producers: In-house
- Understanding what systemic change means for migration
- Taking the campaign beyond “creating awareness”
- Generating two kinds of impact at the local, national, regional, and global levels: Direct community impact and shifts in perception about migrants
- Fully understanding the context and landscape of migration before committing to any solutions
A unique angle to the team’s work was its community-centered design process. After a three-year consultative process with the community depicted in the film and a carefully selected set of NGO partners, the team was determined to center its areas of direct social impact on:
- BODIES ON THE BORDER: What does an unidentified skull tell you about the world?
- THE RIGHT NOT TO MIGRATE: Why are we investing in the dead asset of a border wall when we should be investing in human potential?
- HUMANIZATION: What does it mean to have no viable choices but to leave your home?
The team placed the participation and voice of the community at the heart of its social impact efforts. Additionally, they worked with national rights organizations and with teams in Arizona responsible for identifying and repatriating of bodies found in the desert. They also supported local, national and regional organizations to strengthen their capacity to advocate for migrant rights, connected with advocacy organizations and lawmakers, and engaged the wider public. They designed digital engagement tools that were appropriate to audience communities and aesthetically aligned with the film. They created digital assets to educate and humanize around a selected set of systemic migration issues, which were devised and tested in collaboration with the film’s NGO partners.
Target location: The US, Mexico, and Central America (although many issues are relevant worldwide)
Target groups: Immigration rights advocates and activists in the US; Migrant rights organizations in Mexico and Central America; students and journalists engaged with immigration/migration; policymakers in the US, Mexico, and Honduras, particularly looking at immigration reform, migrant deaths, and border policy; Latino voters, particularly during immigration reform and mid-term elections, including politicians running for midterms in border communities; families of disappeared migrants, and their advocates, in Central America (and the Mediterranean); and the community in the film, in Honduras.
Partners: Colibrí Center for Human Rights, Washington Office on Latin America, Catholic Relief Services, World Policy Institute, Amnesty International, Amnesty Mexico, Amnesty USA, National Council of La Raza, CultureStrike, Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, Movimiento Migrantes Mesoamericanos
Change in Awareness
Changing global migration policy is a multi-stage effort because the issue is so complex and politically contentious. While the filmmakers kept their eyes on the long-term awareness and advocacy needed to contribute to wider legislative changes, they also supported partner organizations to use the film and outreach materials to achieve shorter-term goals in order to immediately save migrant lives.
ENGAGING THE PUBLIC AND CHANGING PERCEPTION: Much of the conversation around migration is centered on highly polarized political viewpoints or stories of gangs, drug trade and violence. Knowing that it would be difficult to break through those media strongholds, the team focused on humanizing the migrant story and advocating for change around some of the seemingly mundane aspects that in reality could bring huge improvements to migrants’ lives, such as water stations in the desert, the missing migrant database, and improved education and access to potable water at the community level. In their public outreach, the filmmakers aimed to engage the public in a story that was relatable in order to influence positioning and perception around migration. They started with the question: Do people know what is happening on the US-Mexico border, or with migration crises around the world? If they don’t know, how can they make meaningful political and electoral decisions?
Please refer to http://whoisdayanicristal.com/impact—the filmmakers have set forth a full narrative of their impact, results, challenges, and gains there. In brief, they produced results on three areas of impact:
- “Bodies on the Border”: Problem: Preventable migrant deaths and disappearances, and lack of resources and capacity to identify and repatriate unidentified dead migrants. Solution: Formation of a non-profit organization dedicated to identification and repatriation of missing migrants.
- “The Right Not to Migrate”: Problem: There is an urgent need for investment, economic development, and community development in local communities in Central America to prevent the need for migration. Solution: Community-centered implementation of improvements to the village portrayed in the film.
- “Humanization”: Problem: Need for migrants’ stories to elicit empathy defined in the film in Honduras, Mexico, and the US, and in the campaign design process by various NGO partners. Solution: Reinserting the issue of deceased migrants and the effects of an inhumane border policy into the immigration reform debate.
Screening attendees: Not reported
Key Press Mentions: The film received a great deal of press coverage, including in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Financial Times, the Guardian, and the BBC.
Change in Behavior
The filmmakers weren’t aiming for a change in behavior.
The film has:
- Been screened within state, national or international legislatures, or the EU or UN
- Been used by partner organizations to lobby politicians or lawmakers
- Created new political advocates
The effort to address the tracking and repatriation of missing persons was a priority in the filmmakers’ outreach work. Despite advocacy efforts with the Border Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus of the US Congress they were unable to shift policy for NamUS and CODIS (the US’ national missing persons databases) to include missing migrants. Though some staffers were moved by the film’s main character’s story, overall apathy and resistance were strong. The filmmakers were, however, able to use the film’s reach to facilitate key relationships that led to the founding of the Colibrí Center for Human Rights, who are now working in earnest to set up a transnational cultural and forensics database. Colibrí has, in part, developed under the aegis of the social impact campaign for Who Is Dayani Cristal? and would not have been possible without the film. Because of its collaboration, Colibrí developed powerful partnerships with the Ford Foundation, WOLA, and several key immigrant rights organizations and border security organizations.
The filmmakers created a portal as part of their website which directly received inquiries about missing migrants and linked them to Colibrí. The collaborative website structure has given people who watch the film the ability to quickly identify a way to try to locate missing migrants, and is processing requests directly from the WIDC site. As the work continues, Colibrí has been able to amplify this issue with data-driven information coupled with the storytelling approach that WIDC helps provide.
As part of their legislative work in the US, the team screened WIDC with the State Department’s Western Hemisphere Affairs section in late 2014. In the discussion that followed, the filmmakers introduced a shift away from the current “prevent migration” policy frame to a frame of “preventing the need for migration,” and enhancing the right not to migrate. This reframing garnered recognition from many staffers in the room. Following the film’s screening, the State Department team posted the film and related digital assets on their internal network. The team has received requests to screen at Central American embassies.
Building Capacity: Colibrí Center for Human Rights (for more information, please see http://whoisdayanicristal.com/impact)
Festivals and Awards: The film premiered on opening night at the Sundance Film Festival 2013, receiving the World Documentary Cinematography Award. It won the jury prize at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in 2012 and the Amnesty International Best Documentary Award in 2014, and was released theatrically, via broadcast to over 2 million viewers, and digitally in 2014 around the world.