With International Migrants Day approaching on December 18, Alice Quinlan from POV’s Community Engagement and Education team caught up with the strategist behind the Who Is Dayani Cristal? impact campaign. Deep in the sun-blistered Sonora desert beneath a cicada tree, Arizona Border Police discover a decomposing male body. Lifting a tattered t-shirt, they expose a tattoo that reads “Dayani Cristal”. Who is this person? What brought him here? How did he die? And who – or what- is Dayani Cristal? Director Marc Silver seeks to answer these questions and give this anonymous man an identity. As the forensic investigation unfolds, Mexican actor and activist Gael Garcia Bernal retraces this man’s steps along the migrant trail in Central America.

The complex campaign balanced national engagement in the U.S. with direct international work in the Honduran village featured in the film. A multimedia website offers a storytelling platform, plus free, downloadable educational resources, action steps and more. Lina Srivastava gives us an inside look into the campaign, from her team’s goals to tips for other impact producers on “passing the baton”.

AQ: Your team has been working with this film for a long time – and with migrant and border issues for even longer. Can you give us an update on where your team is with the engagement campaign right now?

LS: We are looking toward the end of it in a few months and preparing our transition out of active campaign work, which is both deeply satisfying and also a bit melancholic, as we’ve been working on these issues for six years and on this project actively for over four years. But we are happy to say we can demonstrate the impact of the community-facing work we’ve done with NGO partners in the village in the film, and in supporting the network of NGO partners with whom we’ve worked over the past few years. We have a few elements that we’re still working on. For example, we will do a series of same-day screenings in six cities around the world on International Migrants’ Day on December 18, 2014. We hope to call attention through the resonance our of story to the humanitarian crisis that migrants around the world are facing every day. As another example, we will continue to fundraise for programs in the village over the next few months, particularly to support the primary and secondary schools there through our Education Fund, and continue to work directly with our NGO partner in Honduras. We are also preparing an impact evaluation report detailing our process and our progress, working with Linda Raftree, an international development and ICT expert, and Karmen Ross, a political and human rights strategist, to co-author that report with us.

AQ: The campaign has a lot of moving parts that obviously require oversight and management. What steps did you take/are you taking to hand off your work to stakeholders after the campaign ends?

LS: There are a few ways we’ve tried to ensure transition. With regard to our digital content, we have opened access to all of it for free to our partners and to organizations that work on migration and immigration. For the film itself, we have created screening guides that allow audiences to hold their own specific discussions around the film and which will remain relevant to the discussions around immigration for the foreseeable future and active on our site. With our Central American, Mexican, and American border state partners, we did a series of workshops in Mexico that dealt with story-based social impact, and we have a mechanism to follow up and remain in contact with them as needed as they incorporate media and storytelling into their advocacy work. With the community itself, we have attached Catholic Relief Services as a local partner in Honduras, and they will continue to partner with the village community board on development and advocacy projects as needed, and we will keep in contact with them. Finally, we hope that our impact report will pass on our learnings about our campaign construction and impact work to the media impact industry.

AQ: One unique element of your campaign was that there was actually a non-profit that grew out of the film that your team partnered with on engagement strategy. What part does your relationship with the Colibri Center for Human Rights play in these goals?

LS: Marc (Silver, the director of the film and co-director of the impact campaign) is on the board of Colibrí, and I am on the advisory board, soon to ascend to the board itself, and so we will remain supporters of the organization as Robin, who is in our film and is the Center’s Founder, grows the organization. Also, Colibrí will continue to use our media assets in engagement and outreach around their programming. We are so gratified to see how Colibrí has grown so far and the great impact they are already having, and we are happy our work together will continue even after the campaign winds down.

AQ: One of my favorite elements of the film’s website is the interactive Border Stories section. What is the goal of the Border Stories campaign? Will these stories live beyond the website? Where do you see this part of the campaign flourishing?

LS: The Border Stories campaign is for general audiences and communities to tell stories and share reflections and thoughts around the film, or the border, or migration. The issue of migrant rights, especially the issue of dead or missing migrants, is deeply emotional and raw. Much of our campaign has been dedicated to supporting civil society advocacy goals through human stories and a systemic view of migration, which has been a strategic relationship focused on root causes and solutions that could be contoured through migrants’ and activists’ stories. But we also wanted a space for pure emotion or reflection to be captured, and a space for everyday people to be able to add their voices, which is what we have in Border Stories. The stories will have a life after the website, we believe, as an arts/activism piece. We’re in talks with Culture/Strike to craft a work using our Border Stories, perhaps involving the U.S.-Mexico border wall itself.

AQ: Do you have any advice for engagement strategists as they “pass the baton”?

LS: Be strategic. Know that a campaign that has a succession or exit plan will have more impact in the end. So start crafting an exit or transition plan early on, preferably involving your partners. Keep a bit of funding at the end to allow impact assessment and to remain in contact with your network of partner organizations or your subject communities should they need the support as you transition out. And open access to your content, as far as you are able given what rights you retain over the materials. for partners to use in their ongoing work.

Be sure to visit whoisdayanicristal.com to experience the Border Stories interactive and find a screening in your community.

Want to use films to start a conversation around International Migrants Day? Take a look at the films available for free through POV’s Lending Library dealing with immigration issues.

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Published by

Alice Quinlan
Alice Quinlan is the Community Engagement and Education Coordinator at POV. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, she spent three years working as a journalist and media educator in Texas before joining the POV team.