Stop-and-start nature of the film's location shoot renders it difficult to follow a single storyline.

Rebecca Cammisa’s docu about Central American migrant children, “Which Way Home,” travels the same perilous train-top itinerary as Cary Fukunaga’s feted fictional “Sin Nombre.” While the clandestine, stop-and-start nature of the film’s location shoot renders it difficult to follow a single storyline, director Cammisa (“Sister Helena”) wisely makes a virtue of necessity, incorporating different stages of the journey by intercutting between kids who are just embarking, those en route and those whose passage is over. Less visually stunning than Fukunaga’s romantic thriller, this HBO docu nevertheless dramatically and pictorially pulls its weight.

Opening with an anonymous swollen body floating down the river, the pic then switches focus to the four boys at its center: two Honduran tweens from the same village and a couple of Mexican street kids they meet on the train.

Full of vague dreams, the quartet refuses to be daunted by the litany of dangers that await — chief among them the train itself.

Aptly dubbed “The Beast,” the freight train dominates the film — a juggernaut that carries thousands of desperate migrants clinging to its sides and clambering atop its cars. The camera stays with the four boys throughout much of the long trek as they dodge low-hanging branches and talk of those who fell off while sleeping or hit a tunnel head-on.

Sometimes the Beast moves contemplatively through the countryside, waved at by solitary figures by streams and bridges, and sometimes it rushes headlong down narrow rails in fast-motion.

Unlike “Sin Nombre,” no violence transpires oncamera, but the boys tell of being beaten and robbed by cops or witnessing a gang rape. Cammisa occasionally cuts away to record a family grieving over the grave of a young boy who perished in the Arizona desert, while the parents of the cousin who accompanied him await the results of a DNA test to see if their son also has died.

Children apprehended by authorities are filmed being interviewed at shelters or detention centers, many seeking to reunite with parents who fled to the States long before. In this regard, “Home” plays like a reverse-angle on the many documentaries about decamped mothers or fathers who toil in New York or Los Angeles to send cash back to families from whom they are exiled.

Which Way Home

Production

An HBO Documentary Films presentation in association with Good/White Buffalo Entertainment of a Mr. Mudd/Documentress Films production. (International sales: Cactus Three, New York.) Executive producers, Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, Russell Smith, Jack Turner, Bristol Baughan, Bette Cerf Hill, Sheila Nevins. Directed by Rebecca Cammisa.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Lorenzo Hagerman, Cammisa, Eric Goethals; editors, Pax Wassermann, Madeleine Gavin; music, James Lavino; sound, Luis Mercio. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Discovery), April 29, 2009. (Also in Hot Docs.) Running time: 83 MIN.

With

Kevin, Fito, Yurico, Jairo, Jose, Juan Carlos, Olga, Freddy. (Spanish, English dialogue)

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