Sin Nombre, the film that won the Sundance Festival's awards for best direction and cinematography, has just opened in U.S. theaters and already has received rave reviews.
Sayra, a Honduran migrant, believes that despite the odds, she'll make it into the United States.
"A psychic once told me, 'You'll make it to the U.S.A. Not in God's hands, but in the hands of the devil,'" she relates to Casper, a young Mexican she meets during her journey.
The "devil" in this case is Casper, a member of the notorious gang Mara Salvatrucha. He gets on a train northbound to escape his gang's wrath after he had to kill its leader.
Casper's and Sayra's lives intertwine. She is a teenager escaping an aimless life. He needs to get as far away from his hometown in Chiapas as possible.
Unlike Sayra, his hope of making it out of Mexico into the United States has long faded. He had once crossed the border, but like thousands of others, he was caught and sent back.
American director Cary Fukunaga says the title of his film Sin Nombre, which means "without a name," represents Sayra and Casper and all the others like them.
"In terms of the gang, these are people who lose their name when entering the gang. And in terms of the immigrants, I think it's sort of a voiceless underrepresented people," says the filmmaker.
To depict Sayra's and Casper's trek, Fukunaga and his crew traveled alongside hundreds of migrants riding on top of northbound freight trains.
"A lot of those moments are based on things that I saw personally," he says. "While traveling on the train, down to how food was distributed and how people protect each other from the rain."
Fukunaga filmed real migrants enduring the long and arduous journey through a wild, luscious and sometimes rugged terrain. Although the story is fictional, his documentary-style techniques communicate in a visceral way these people's ordeal.
Fukunaga's portrayal of Mara Salvatrucha gang members is as realistic.
He focuses on Salvatrucha cliques and their turf wars in southern Mexico. He says they make money from migrants, who pay to get on the trains to the Mexican border. Fukunaga says Mara Salvatrucha guards its posts on the train yards very jealously and often gets into skirmishes against other gangs.
Fukunaga's cinematography resembles Slumdog Millionaire, which depicts the slums of Mumbai and uses real locales as backdrops to the fictional melodrama. But Fukunaga says he did not take tips from Slumdog filmmaker Danny Boyle.
He says he is thankful that the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire introduced the world of the poor into the western mainstream. But, he continues, poverty and slums are everywhere, and their stories should be told more than once and portrayed as they really are.