Writer/director David Riker is known for his controversial and political films that raise questions and concerns about the immigration culture. His previous films have chronicled the lives of several immigrants. His most notable film, La Ciudad, shined light on the struggling endeavors that immigrants experience after they’ve crossed the border. In his latest feature film, The Girl, starring Abbie Cornish, Riker highlights the obstacles immigrants and Americans are faced with when crossing the border illegally.
Riker’s political drama, The Girl, set along the Texas border, tells the story of a struggling American woman, Ashley, who finds herself in the midst of illegal activity surrounding the border between Mexico and Texas. The film is now playing in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, and it hits Austin on Friday, April 5, at the AMC Barton Creek Square 14.
We recently spoke with Riker about the inspiration and research that went into making The Girl.
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What inspired you to make The Girl?
It was a series of things. First, realizing that the center of these preconceived ideas [about immigration] is inadequate and false. Second, realizing that all the films about immigration and the border, including my own, the American character is completely absent as if it has nothing to do with us.
What were some of the qualities you were looking for in the actors to play in these leading roles?
For the main character of Ashley, I would’ve loved to find a South Texas woman, but I was looking for actors who were already fairly well established. In that, I was looking for an actress who had tremendous sensitivity and great intelligence. I knew that the film, more than anything, was going to be the story of her slow and rational journey. The film is made against the current action and extreme violence of the border. I really wanted to push this reset button and ask people to go on a slow and gradual journey. The drama is happening inside.
For the little girl, I needed to find a girl who had [the character] Rosa’s qualities. She had to be stronger than her size. She had to be strong enough to be the dramatic engine in the story, a girl who was pushing Ashley on a journey. I needed her to be like a little cohete, a firecracker. I needed her to be an indigenous girl from Southern Mexico who wasn’t worldly, a girl who had never traveled to the U.S. Most of those girls are very, very shy so it was a difficult thing to find her.
What research did you do in order to make this film come across as realistic?
Much of the time I was listening to stories of immigrants and all of them had a story of crossing the border that was sort of indelible. No matter how many years had passed, they were able to recount it as if it were yesterday. It was almost always a painful memory and for some, a humiliating experience. So I traveled to the border to see with my own eyes what it meant. What I discovered when I got to the border was that my preconceptions were false, or at least inadequate.
The preconception is the central idea of the border that all of us have who don’t live there, it’s that hope exists on this side [American side] of the border. That if you can just make it across, if you can just get to Texas or California, there’s a better life. I realized that the problem with that [preconceived idea] is that many people on this side [American side] of the border actually feel shut out from the American Dream.
I decided to try and turn the border upside down. I started a very open-ended research that lasted for a number of years. I was traveling across the border back and forth and I was confronted with the question of who’s responsible for the suffering of the immigrants? Who is responsible for the deaths? It’s a complicated question, but what is not complicated is that the immigrants come to work and they’re coming to work for us.
What type of message are you trying to convey or connect with an audience who might not understand the situation in your film about illegally bringing Mexicans across the border?
I think for Americans, I really hope that this film can broaden their idea and the discussion about “What is our relationship with immigrants?” and “What is it that we have in common and what is it that separates us?” I’m hoping that this film puts us (Americans) in the picture. More than that, my hope is that people who see this film are taken on a journey that they would have never expected to go on.
Can you go into more detail as to why you chose to use an Anglo American female as the protagonist as opposed to a Hispanic protagonist? What was the reason behind that?
It’s funny because when I traveled all over for La Ciudad, many people said they loved the film that it was so warming. They talked about those immigrants, in my film, as those “poor people” as if it had nothing to do with them, as if we, as Americans, are observing a tragedy of other people and yet the immigrants are taking care of our children, they’re looking after our parents, they’re cleaning our homes, they’re building our houses. All of this led me to put an Anglo American character in the movie as the dramatic center of this film. I wanted a woman who, like the U.S., generally doesn’t take responsibility for anything. Ashley, in the beginning of the film, blames everyone for her problems much like immigration reform where they say, “They’re the problem,” you know, completely erasing their contributions.
What other projects can we look forward to seeing in the future?
I have another film coming out in June. It’s called Dirty Wars. I’m also working on a satirical comedy called America The Beautiful.
Watch the official trailer for The Girl below.