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Tribeca Film Festival – Interview with Paraiso Travel Director Simon Brand

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Paraiso Travel is the story of a young Colombian couple who brave the dangers of crossing illegally into the United States to find a better life, only to discover the truth about where they’re going — and each other. Director Simon Brand, a native Colombian, discusses the realities of illegal immigration and the human condition with www.amc.com.

Q: What inspired you to do this movie?

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A: I read the book about six or seven years ago when it came out, and I thought it was a great book. I came to the US about 15 years ago, and I identified with the main character — not because of the way he came in, I didn’t go that route — but the culture shock and the love story really attracted me. I stayed in the US because of a girl, so it was a great story to tell. At the same time, it dealt with a very hot topic, the whole immigration issue. Most of the movies I’ve seen, they’re always very vague about what really goes on.

Q: Why do you think most films shy away from the horrors of illegal crossings?

A: I think it is ignorance in a way. People in the US talk about immigration all the time, and they talk about closing the borders and building a wall, but they really don’t realize that most people are just trying to find a better life. I wasn’t trying to make a political statement, I was just trying to see it from the human standpoint. Going from the south of Mexico to the border is actually extremely dangerous. People lose their limbs; they have to deal with gangs — it’s just one thing after another.

Q: Was it difficult for you emotionally to re-enact these conditions?

A: When we were shooting the US crossing, there’s a scene where people are stashed in hollow logs on the back of a truck. When that scene was happening, when you see a woman crying over her dead father, it was heartbreaking. It was probably the only scene in the whole film where everybody — the crew, the actors, myself — everybody was extremely quiet. And it was a very breezy day and all you could hear was the sound of the wind blowing, and it just made that whole scene very moving. It just shows what lengths people are willing to go to, to get into the US.

Q: It seems like the film breaks pre-conceptions on both sides of the issue — both in terms of immigrants’ perceptions of America and Americans’ perceptions of immigrants.

A: Exactly. For people in our country, they’re going to think twice about actually committing to that journey, and from the American’s perspective, they’re going to think twice about how they treat immigrants once they’re there. This is one particular story, but I know a lot of people that have actually gone to the US, and it’s not what it’s supposed to be or what they think it is — that everything is easy and you’re going to get a great job and make easy money.

Q: Was it a conscious decision to cast unknown actors as the leads in the movie?

A: I looked at 400 or 500 actors and actresses in Colombia, trying to find ones that suited the characters. We have the talent, we just have to look for it. Aldemar [Correa] and Angelica [Blandon] represent perfectly what I read in the book… I actually envisioned those two kids, and so it was a blessing that I found them.

Q: What was it like shooting in your home country?

A: It’s so much more comfortable to shoot there because of its informality. The standards of production are different, but you deal with the same equipment. Most of the interiors of New York, we shot in Colombia. I did a lot of research and watched a lot of documentaries to try to be as authentic as possible with location. In Colombia, the electricians, the drivers — everybody in the crew — puts so much passion into the process, it’s a different attitude. 

Q: The tagline for the movie says that America will test these two peoples’ love. But I got the sense that the love they had for each other was just another illusion for them.

A: The film is about obsession. It’s about confusing lust and love, which I think we all go through as men. If I was 20, 21 and some girl tells me, “Hey, let’s go to New York,” I would have. A lot of men probably would have done what Marlon did. And then they get separated, so when he’s looking for her, in the back of his mind he’s thinking, “I just need to close the circle. I just need to put closure to this.” As human beings we all need closure, whether it’s finding someone, or letting go, you just need to know.

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