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Beyond the Numbers

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When you see the number 252 on a page—even if you're told that's the number of deaths suffered by migrants over the last year right here in the Arizona desert—it's still just a number.

But when the number (according to a recent Arizona Daily Star article) is unraveled into individual stories, names and faces, suddenly meaning is gained.

The combination of journalism and film make Marc Silver's recent documentaries about migration to the United States so powerful. Silver, actor Gael Garcia Bernal and Amnesty International—an independent global organization that campaigns to protect human rights—have collaborated to produce The Invisibles, a documentary series of four short films that take viewers on a journey across the rough and often fatal terrain that Mexican and Central American migrants trek across, in hopes of escaping the severe poverty and injustices of their homeland.

The documentaries do not take a stance for or against immigration; that is not what the project is about. Instead, filmmakers said, the project lets the stories speak for themselves—to promote discussion instead of debate and argument.

"It humanizes the concept of what an illegal immigrant is," Silver said. "Humanizing the death experience is important. ... It will show people, hopefully, that it's not actually about immigration; it's just about human beings dying for no real reason—or for an unnecessary reason."

The documentary consists of four short films: Seaworld, Six Out of Ten, What Remains and Goal! The shorts are set mostly in Southern Mexico, where the harsh landscape is not the only concern for those seeking a new life. In Southern Mexico and Central America, migrants are kidnapped, tortured, raped and killed by terrorists who extort vulnerable travelers for money. Corrupt governments do next to nothing to prevent such atrocities—and some may even conspire to work with the terrorists.

"It's pretty much a known fact that in Mexico, the police are super-corrupt," said Silver. "So when there's money involved, and when they're detaining migrants, there are numerous, numerous, numerous stories of people saying the police took their money."

These chilling stories captured by Silver's camera are some of the only instances of documentation of such activities. Some church groups and humanitarian groups try to help protect the migrants, but if someone disappears, there is no way to track the migrant, or inform families. Silver said he hopes that one of the results of the films will be the formation of a transnational DNA database for migrants and their families.

Despite these dangers, the influx of immigrants into the United States continues.

"Obviously, there are complex economic reasons why some people are poor, and some people are rich," said Silver. "But you need to ask why people are leaving home."

Silver's original inspiration for the films came after he helped launch the website www.resistnetwork.com, where people were encouraged to share their stories of resistance against border walls, inhumane economic policies and so on. What developed was a surplus of faceless testimonies.

"We wanted to make a film somehow from these stories," explained Silver. "Then we came across the story of the skeletal remains in the deserts of Arizona, and started researching that properly."

What resulted was the filming of The Invisibles, which further resulted in the making of a feature-length film titled Who Is Dayani Cristal? which documents the journey of a migrant from Honduras to his final days in the Arizona desert, and the repatriation of his body back to his home and family. Silver will premiere footage from the film at the screening.

After the show, there will be a panel discussion with Silver, Mexican consulate representative Lorenia Ton, and anthro grad student Robin Reineke, from the county Office of the Medical Examiner.

The screening is part of a month-long series of events that will take place at The Screening Room called Artes Sin Fronteras, which seeks to honor the border experience through film, dance, music, visual arts and literature.

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