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The power of a story

Yesterday, as I was drinking my morning coffee and flipping through various news sites online before I took the kids to school, I ran across an interview at ComingSoon with young filmmaker Cary Fukunaga, whose first full-length feature film will be in theaters this weekend. The introduction to the interview describes Sin Nombre, a Spanish-language film that debuted at Sundance and received awards for direction and cinematography, as a film that “on the surface. . . might seem like ‘just another immigration movie’”, but “it's really a film that uses immigration as a backdrop to follow the journey of two teens through the violent world in which they live.” According to the article, the film tells two stories (about a Honduran teenage girl and a young Mexican gang member fleeing his violent life) that intersect as the two make their way to the U.S. through Mexico.

Several aspects of this film and interview immediately intrigued me. First, immigration is something about which I care deeply, and any film that puts faces, names and stories to what we too often discuss solely as an economic or political issue is of interest to me. But I was also intrigued to discover the lengths to which this young screenwriter/director—who is of Swedish and Japanese descent and for whom Spanish isn’t his first language—went in order to be authentic in his storytelling. He spent a great deal of time in Mexico City train yards, slums and shelters talking with and getting know the people. He rode miles on the top of trains packed with immigrants in Mexico. He meticulously cast extras and selected unknown actors for the main roles in order to support a more authentic story.

As I read the interview I found myself wondering what made this young man decide to tell a story like this? What made him to go to such lengths and take such personal risk to get the story right?

Interestingly, it didn’t start out with a passion for an issue. In fact, Fukunago describes himself as an “accidental tourist”:
I didn't grow up wanting to do an immigration film. It's just something I sort of fell into and through a series of events, I sort of became an accidental tourist in this world after making a short film and then ultimately writing a feature film that's pretty far from my experience, my life. Through research, I was able to really immerse myself in it, so a lot of what I researched is on the screen.

As I read these comments and the rest of the interview, I couldn’t help but find Fukunago’s determination to immerse himself in and tell the stories of others a challenge to my own life.

I wonder if each of us would do well to view ourselves as accidental tourists, too. Everyday, we have the opportunity to brush against or enter into the lives of others. We don’t have to ride on top of a train in Mexico for this to happen. We simply need to “be in the room with” or pay attention to those we encounter. If we get to know the stories behind the people we encounter throughout the day as well as those we live and work beside, things change. All too often we judge someone by what we see them do in a brief slice of time. But everyone has a story. The moment in which we’ve encountered them is a combination of many others leading up to that point. Often, knowing their story helps us understand and see them as they are—and more often that not, it reveals where they are struggling, wounded and broken. And that often touches our own wounded brokenness, which gives us a context in and compassion with which to relate. And that helps us to really begin to care—to love. And that is what we were created and made to do, to love God and love others.

It may sound na├»ve, but I really believe this is the power that changes the world around us. If Jesus is who he says and can do what he says, he doesn’t need a program, plan or agenda to draw others to him. He’ll do that by his Spirit—a Spirit of unbelievable life and love. And because that Spirit lives with in us and we walk with him, we are a part of that. We are partnering with Jesus in his kingdom-coming—in restoring, healing, redeeming and ushering in life in a broken and suffering world. We love because we are loved. We love because the love we are loved with spills onto the people and world around us.

I was also challenged by how Fukunago immersed himself in the stories of those that differs so much from his own experience. One of my most vivid memories is spending time with folks who fled Mexico and Central America for this country. I saw things and heard stories I didn’t know existed. It changes you, this “being in the room” with those whose lives differ so from your own. And, I hate to admit, reading about Fukunago’s film and passion has made me realize this is something I spend far too little energy or time on these days.

Finally, I couldn’t shake how Fukunago tells this story with such passion—and that makes me realize once again the power of good stories. They change the way we think about ourselves and the people around us. They make us examine why we do what we do and why the world works the way it does. And the best of stories reveals something about God.

And Fukunago’s own story is doing that for me.

(Images: Canana Films via Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB)


Lenore said…
You made me want to see this film! This week I saw "The Visitor," which also has an immigration them and is excellent. Put it in your Netflix queue!
Carmen Andres said…
i will, thank you!