Who Is Dayani Cristal?
The discovery of an unidentified male body in Arizona’s Sonora desert serves as the starting point for a poignant look at the dangers facing illegal immigrants from Central America seeking economic betterment in the US. A tattoo on the dead man’s chest reading “Dayani Cristal” is one of the clues forensic investigators use to track down his identity. Shocking testimony from US officials reveals that his corpse numbers among more than 200 sets of human remains discovered by the Border Patrol in the desert in 2010.
Would a humane immigration policy help prevent more deaths in the desert? The articulate Robin Reineke, coordinator of missing persons reports at the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office thinks so. We also hear from a dedicated official from the Mexican Consulate in Arizona who works with the medical investigators; it’s her sad task to go through the corpses’ clothing and possessions in search of anything that might identify them.
Intercut with the search for the dead man’s identity is a scripted odyssey reminiscent of that shown in the fiction feature Sin Nombre in which Mexican heartthrob Gael García Bernal tries to recreate a migrant’s 1,000-kilometer journey. The difficult trip brings him across the Honduran/Mexican border to Chiapas, where migrants climb on top of the rumbling train they dub “the Beast.” This creative documentary won a cinematography award at the Sundance Film Festival for its potent, poetic images that contrast the beauty and the danger of the desert.