Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri May 01, 2020 11:20 am 
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A radical documentary about America's broken immigration system

In the summer of 2012 two young undocumented activists, Marco Saavedra, 22, and later Viridiana Martinez, purposely got themselves detained by ICE at the 700-person for-profit Broward Transitional Center in Florida. They were Dream Act-eligible, having been brought to this country as children and been received their education here. They were members of the National Immigrant Youth Allance who were often in demonstrations for immigrant rights, and found that getting frequently arrested was a protection. When that happened, ICE was never around. This action was one step further: they were going undercover to expose conditions at the center and organize the detainees - who are from all over, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Haiti, Honduras, Salvador, Congo, Sri Lanka, and many more countries.

Saavedra's and Martinez's aim was to work from within for the release of detainees they knew about who didn't deserve to be there. As Martinez has written, the claim that President Obama was "our guy for immigration reform" was quite untrue. The Obama administration was not responsible for "s only deporting gangbangers and felons." Obama deported more people than ever before in US history - more than Trump. Many of the detainees had no criminal records, as remains true.

The Infiltrators uses an intentionally "weird" and playful hybrid docudrama approach, blending simulation, for the action inside the detention center, which they could not film, with narration and in-person appearances by the real people, when they are on the outside. We see both actors and some of the real people throughout. Playing himself throughout is Mohammad Abdollahi, a young gay undocumented Iranian immigrant who coordinated from the outside with Saavedra and Martinez in informing the inmates and helping get them released.

The supposedly "model" Broward and the 250 other detention centers were holding over 400,000 people that year, many caught on minor infractions like a driver's license, who had been living law-abiding and useful lives for years, but just happened to be undocumented. Through this infiltration the pair were able to find a large number of candidates for their activism, people from many countries held unnecessarily for months or years and in dire distress, getting them to sign away their privacy rights - a tricky process indeed - so Congressional offices would look a their and pressuring authorities to block their deportation and gain their release from detention.

The simulation of Broward, using a former mental institution and a lot of people in orange jumpsuits and in prison guard garb, looks very convincing to us. But the filmmakers frequently interrupt to point out this is an actor playing somebody, or this is the real person. It creates something like a Brechtian "Alienation Effect," making the points put across seem more real by undercutting our ability to escape into a fantasy recreation. It's confusing at times, disorienting, but ultimately it works pretty well. Despite the interruptions of the illusion, as Marco and Viri, Abdulahi and the other Dreamer activists get involved in saving detainees from sudden deportation the action grows suspenseful and exciting.

A particular focus is Argentinian-born family man Claudio Rojas (played by Manuel Uriza), who is the first one Marco seeks at Broward. He is harder to get out for his group. Easier is a young man, Ismael, whom the Youth Alliance soon do get out. But Claudio becomes active with Marco (played by actor Maynor Alvarado) in informing and organizing the detainees to seek their release. Claudio dprd get released, after a highly publicized hunger strike joined in by others, and we see the real Claudio. But after this film came out in festivals, ICE stepped in and arrested him, and he has now been deported to Argentina. The struggle never ends, and these actions are completely arbitrary, and can be ended as easily.

We learn a lot about the detainment and deportation of undocumented immigrants here, and you may enjoy this playful method of telling the tale. Exploitation of the South by the North has been the subject of previous documentaries, some for PBS, by Cristina Ibarra, and labor exploitation is treated uniquely in a Mexican-set sci-fi format in Ibarra's co-director and husband Alex Rivera's 2008 first feature, Sleep Dealer[/I], which won awards at Sundance and was in New Directors/New Films, the SFIFF and other festivals.

The context of this story is further developed in coverage provided on Democracy Now.

The Infiltrators, 95 mins., debuted at Sundance, where it won the audience award, and was shown in 11 other festivals. Due to the coronavirus pandemic it was not theatrically released on March 27, 2020 as originally planned. It instead will have a virtual cinema release Fri., May 1, 2020, and cable on demand/digital streaming release Tues., Jun. 2.

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