The new HBO film "Icebox" is as timely as a film gets. Evoking images that have been all over the news recently, the film tells the story of a Honduran boy fleeing gang violence and seeking asylum in the U.S.
But while news coverage typically offers multiple points of view, analysis and statistics, "Icebox" aims to show what being apprehended and detained at the border is like solely through the eyes of an emblematic 12-year-old migrant.
"One of the big aims of the movie is to try and pull us away from the bird's eye perspective and put us into a human perspective of this kid going through this," said Daniel Sawka.
Daniel Sawka first wrote and directed a version of "Icebox" in 2016 as a short for his film school's thesis project. After it was shortlisted for an Oscar, the Swedish-born director decided to expand it into a feature-length movie.
Sawka: "It was very important for us to be capturing the emotional truth of what the characters were going through. That was at the core of it, you know: 'Is this what this moment feels like? Are we showing that correctly?' And, obviously, keeping in mind that most of our characters are children, right? ... There's a question about childhood and the right to childhood that I think central to this."
Newsy's Ben Schamisso: "Are you saying that the way the system is right now, these children don't get to be children?"
Sawka: "The situation has become so politicized that when you read these articles, you don't feel that we're talking about a child anymore. You know, there are terms like 'illegal alien' that are meant to create this kind of dehumanized situation that make it easier, perhaps, to digest what they're facing. And I think the big goal for this was to cement it in an emotional journey of this child."
Sawka and critics have praised the performance of main actor Anthony Gonzales, who recently voiced the lead character in the animated feature "Coco."
Sawka: "He is an extremely professional actor, a generous, brave performer, and he was a leader for this team with the actors almost as much as I was. And I really hope that people enjoy his performance in this because I think it's outstanding."
Schamisso: "How was the experience like on set as a white filmmaker working mostly with a Hispanic cast on an issue that affects a Hispanic population more than a white population?"
Sawka: "The way I've been treating it is simply coming in with a lot of humility and respect and trying to work very hard to earn the right to tell the story and include people. I mean, we were constantly reaching out and listening and talking amongst crew and actors about everything we were doing. And people constantly came up to tell you their own stories, their family's stories, their neighbors' stories, their friends' stories.
"It was just a beautiful thing to get to be part of, really, and I'm extremely grateful for everyone who was involved."
"Icebox" debuts on HBO on Dec. 7.