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Sundancer Tom McCarthy Crosses Fiery Borders with ‘The Visitor’

[IMG:L]Director-writer-actor Tom McCarthy helmed the critically acclaimed, multiple award-winning debut The Station Agent that nabbed three prestigious Sundance prizes in 2003 for Best Dramatic Feature, Screenwriting, and his lead Patricia Clarkson for Best Actress. Picking up steam from his film’s Toronto bow, he returns to Park City with a buzz sophomore effort.

For his most recent work, The Visitor, McCarthy takes pride in his country, yet shows no fear in displaying the flaws found within today’s U.S. immigration system and its policies.

The film tells the thought-provoking tale of a lonesome widower and economic professor (brilliantly and humorously tackled by actor Richard Jenkins) who is revitalized when he grudgingly returns to his Manhattan apartment to find an illegal immigrant couple hiding/living there. A poignant story ensues of friendship, compassion, rebirth, cultural unity through differences–and “underdog” versus the “authorities” conflict. 

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Hollywood.com met up with the innovative McCarthy, who excitedly shared his adventures in Lebanon, and his inspiration to tread on foreign ground and delve into unconventional material to create his latest opus.

Hollywood.com: What inspired you to write and direct this film?
Tom McCarthy
: I had just spent some time traveling in the Middle East and thought that it was interesting that you don’t see a lot of Arab characters in film–like the people I met there with warm and generous spirits. I was hanging out with a lot of visual artists and filmmakers in Beirut who had this amazing spirit of life and generosity, and I thought it was an interesting character [type] to bring back and use in a movie.

HW: That ignited things…
Then I started doing some research and … out of that process [came] an immigration storyline. The detention centers were popping up everywhere, especially with the crackdown of immigration in our country–and it just started to fit together.

HW: What were you doing in the Middle East?
For my first movie, The Station Agent, the state department had called me out of the blue and asked if I would like to go screen this movie as part of an outreach program they had in the Middle East. So, they sent me to Oman, which is wonderful, and then they sent me to Lebanon, Beirut which is a city I fell in love with. I met some amazing people there and we just hit it off.

HW: Are you concerned at all about the way the U.S. government or correctional facilities will interpret or react to this film?
I don’t worry at all. Ultimately this is story about people and connections and relationships and people finding both love and friendship in an unlikely place and unlikely time. There is a political social element but it’s less about we’re doing it all wrong,’ and I’m not blaming people, I’m just saying ‘let’s take a look at how we’re doing this.’ If we’re going to hold a standard up for the rest of the world, we have to hold that same standard up for ourselves.

HW: Be introspective…
Are we doing it as well as we could, and is this the way we would like our children to be treated if they were in another country? I purposely try not to blame the police or guards at the detention centre. There’s no mustache-twirling bad guy here. Possibly I may blame bureaucracy in general.

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HW: Is there a message in this story?
I think the important thing with this story is about the value of immigrants: The infusion of energy, culture and commerce from people coming to our country; a whole new class of people bringing their special thing. It’s what made our country a great country–and we need to keep that in mind.

HW: Do you think there’s hope for a part two to this film?
No. I love that idea but once you are deported, it’s very difficult to come back. I think it’s like 10 years before you can re-apply to come back legally in that situation. So although people have said I should go to Syria and find him, that was the moment in time to catch those characters and tell that story; now it’s time to move on. People felt the same way about The Station Agent. But who knows–maybe I’ll revisit it in 10 years.

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