Sin Cielo is a short film written and directed by Jianna Maarten Saada. Prior to the project’s creation, Maarten Saada visited dangerous parts of the country on her own. She stayed with underprivileged families, many of whom knew someone whose daughters had been abducted, who feared for their lives.
As a result, Maarten Saada produced a film that demonstrates a very real and significant problem with the intention to bring the issue at hand to the surface. The film has competed in high profile festivals and has won several awards such as the Grand Jury Prize at the Seattle International Film Festival, the Young Jury Prize at Palm Springs Shorts Fest, the Grand Jury, Audience Award and Best of Fest Prize at Ivy Film Festival.
Being under Oscar Consideration, Maarten Saada spoke about Sin Cielo and the urgency of acknowledging human trafficking as a prominent problem.
Ioanna Micha: So, before we delve into more details, could you tells us a bit about Sin Cielo?
Jianna Maarten Saada: Sin Cielo is at its core a love story between two teenage kids living in a Mexican colonia bordering El Paso. The boy Memo does these low level runs with his best friend for the local gang faction—”Uncle’ Juan” as they call him—in the neighborhood. He doesn’t even know what is in the bags he buries at checkpoints, it’s a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ situation. So, he makes this date with Delia to walk her to school. She waits for him, but he oversleeps and they miss each other. On her walk to school, she is abducted. He goes looking for her but is warned pretty early on to keep his mouth shut—don’t ask, don’t tell. When he doesn’t listen, they drive by and shoot at his house. The film ends in a parade, a kind of visual final moment on what has been emotionally occurring throughout this story to these people.
IM: I really enjoy the pace of the film and that it is at its core a love story. We see how Delia and Memo interact in the beginning, for instance, and we root for them! How come you framed the film as a love story?
JMS: Thank you so much! Young love is so inspiring because it’s so honest and overwrought. It feels so sweet and simple and then right in the middle of it is this huge hand that swoops down and steals it; it just rips it right to shreds. I love these kind of love stories. I love the Romeo and Juliets of the world in terms of structure. It’s such a fated structure. I’ve read and watched Romeo and Juliet probably a hundred times and each time I root for their love to overcome all even though I know it’s going to end badly. I know they will both die but here I am shouting ‘don’t take the poison! She’s alive!’ That’s great storytelling. We wanted to see if we could accomplish that in twenty five minutes. At the beginning of the film Memo tells you this is going to end badly. He says the walls are listening in and you can’t trust people, and the ominous beginning is a pretty big tip that this will not end well. But, it’s our job, as storytellers, to make you forget that and get attached, so that later these two teens can break your heart. That’s the goal.
IM: There’s great chemistry between Fenessa Pineda and David Gurrola. What made you decide on these two actors?
JMS: The moment I met them in the room I knew. I was in love with both of them. They just had the perfect bit of sweetness. Total naturals! I think they are both superstars, no joke. David was fifteen when we shot Sin Cielo. He carries with him all the reality of being this fifteen-year-old kid in high school with girl problems, you know the whole nine yards and yet he’s a total heartthrob! Fenessa is pure gold. You put a camera on her and it’s as if the camera isn’t there. They’re both just so easy; it makes my work pretty effortless. I mean the fact that they are not fighting off major movie roles right now blows me away. We really do need to open the path for more latinx starring/lead roles. Both of these young people can hold a movie.
IM: You shed light on a very real and crucial issue that exists in the world, that of human trafficking. You have called it before a ‘collective problem’ and I believe that this is an undeniable truth. What inspired you to tell this story?
JMS: The people in the towns I visited while doing research inspired this story. This is their story. These are their heartbreaks, their children being stolen, their fears, their worries. The words the characters are saying are really their words.
IM: I find the title so intriguing! Why is the film called Sin Cielo?
JMS: It means without sky. Or without heaven to be really interpretative with it. The idea that that’s all there is—this never ending sky, felt apropos. It’s like being trapped in a prison of air.
IM: Sin Cielo has won several awards from film festivals, such as Calcutta International Cult Film Festival, the Seattle International Film Festival and Palm Springs International ShortFest,. How does it feel to know that the film has had such a great response?
JMS: We’re very happy to be received so well. I think it’s always surprising when it happens, but it’s one of those right movie right moment things, and we are so grateful to the audiences who expressed their affinity for the film.
IM: You have another short at its post-production stage called Mermaids. Would you like to reveal anything about it?
JMS: Mermaids is a total fave of mine. It’s finished, but for some reason it shows up on IMDb that it’s in post-production. It’s under five minutes and a total tonal piece I shot with Pallavi Reddy on 35mm. Reddy did this beautiful processing on it. I love that short. It’s tonally my favorite piece. We never really got it out there to fests, which we should because it’s very surprising I think. It’s entirely silent, no dialogue at all. The framing is very specific. I was just so much fun to shoot!
IM: Do you have another future project in mind?
JMS: Yes, several! My writing partner Cara Lawson and I have a feature of Sin Cielo as well as a psychological horror, a sci-fi piece, and a character driven drama. There are more stories we want to tell than folks willing to give us money to tell them. Ha! Sometimes we have to slow ourselves down!
IM: Is there something I haven’t covered yet that you would like to mention?
JMS: We would definitely like to get the word out there about folks taking a serious look at femicide and trafficking to be part of a solution going forward. Trafficking is alive and well in our world, making billions of dollars. I truly believe there’s another way, another path, that does not result in selling your fellow human into bondage.