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Writer-director Luis Fernando Puente found inspiration for his Sundance Film Festival debut film close to home — from his wife, Lizde Arias.
“It’s based off of my wife’s green card interview,” Puente said. “We were both in that room. The interview portion of it is almost word for word, [it’s] very true to life.”
The Utah-based filmmaker made his short film, “I Have No Tears, and I Must Cry,” in Orem. The film follows the fictionalized version of Arias, a Mexican immigrant named Maria Luisa (played by Mexican actor Alejandra Herrera), during a tense interview to secure her green card.
Clocking in at 13 minutes, the movie is authentic and necessary, capturing the arduous and nerve-wracking process immigrants go through.
“When I told people I’m gonna make a move about an interview, it [didn’t] sound like much,” Puente said. “In reality, to be able to portray a feeling of tension and anxiety was a challenge.”
The movie deals with the notion that there is a “right” or “perfect” way that immigrants should behave and answer questions in their interviews. That idea is based on a process that hasn’t been updated in decades, Puente said, and doesn’t “meet the demands of the modern world.”
“What the immigration process is like nowadays, it’s complicated. It’s a very long process,” Puente said.
Every case is different, and should be handled that way, Puente said. In Arias’s situation, she was seeking a green card on the basis of being married to Puente, a U.S. resident. (Puente was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and moved to Texas as a child. He eventually came to Provo, to study media arts at Brigham Young University.)
“The way that people are technically documented and such can be a pretty grueling process,” Puente said.
One of the challenges of making his short film was that he filmed close to home, in Orem. The job of recreating a USCIS office was tricky, he said, because “there’s not a lot of places that have that old look to them that are available for people to film.”
Puente had some Sundance experience in his corner. The film’s cinematographer, Oscar Ignacio Jiménez, has worked with BYU professor and filmmaker Robert Machoian on two Sundance entries: The 2019 short “The Minors,” and the acclaimed 2020 marriage drama “The Killing of Two Lovers,” which was shot in Kanosh, Utah.
Arias was involved in putting the film together, Puente said, particularly in the casting process. When Puente showed his wife an audition tape of actor Cherie Julander, he said, she gasped audibly because of the nuance Julander brought to her reading of the immigration officer’s role. Julander won the audition.
Puente said he hopes his film will help others gain a sense of empathy toward immigrants.
“There are many times when people talk about immigrants and they don’t really realize who they’re talking about,” he said. “While each of us has a different story, and a different experience, immigrants can identify with this film. People who are not immigrants can look at this and see something that they just haven’t seen before.”
Puente said that with his current work, he wants to highlight the experience of immigrants in the United States, and what they might go through to find their place in this country. His Sundance debut does exactly that.
“I Have No Tears, and I Must Cry” screens in Shorts Program 5 at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. It is scheduled to screen: Monday, 11:55 a.m., Prospector Square Theatre, Park City; Wednesday, 4 p.m., Redstone Cinemas, Park City; Friday, 5:30 p.m., at the Megaplex Theatres at The Gateway, Salt Lake City; and Saturday, 6:15 p.m., Broadway Centre Cinemas, Salt Lake City. The program also will be available to screen Tuesday on the festival’s online portal.