New from Al and Linda Lerner on Movies and Shakers: The Infiltrators

This documentary within a scripted feature is a nail biter that effectively brings to light the arbitrary, unjust detention and deportation of immigrants, many who have lived nowhere but in the U.S.  

Directors Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera used a very creative process to document, and then further dramatize with actors, how members of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance courageously get themselves arrested and put in detention. 

Director Ibarra and Rivera (who are married) employ a very creative structure that combines actual documentary video until their young activists enter the facility. Then they have actors reenact on a set what could not be shot inside, all to protect the Dreamer activists’ identities and their undercover activity. In our interview at Doc 10 in Chicago, Director Rivera termed the project an experiment and it works.

Marco Saavedra, (who we see in the documentary portion and then dramatized by actor Maynor Alvarado) plus Viridiana Martinez, (who also plays herself and then is dramatized by Chelsea Rendon) are DREAMERS. They are young, undocumented teen immigrants who who were brought to the United States with their parents and know no other home. 

Ibarra and Rivera film the young activists who challenge federal immigration policy as they intentionally get caught and put into one of America’s for-profit immigration detention centers. Their mission is to see what it’s like from inside and how to change it. 

The film shows Iranian native Mohammad Abdollahi, a smart and articulate activist holding down the fort at the command center. He monitors ICE activity and orchestrates instructions by cell phone to Marco and Viri once inside the facility. This is when the film becomes an intriguing thriller.

But, scenes cutting between Abdollahi talking on the phone and then to the dramatization with the actors is a little disconcerting at first. It takes awhile to get into the flow seeing actuality which then continues with actors on a set acting out what’s happening inside the detention center. 

These kids are so dedicated, they’re not afraid to put themselves in potentially dangerous situations to show how immigrants are being treated under the government’s immigrant policy. The owners of facilities such as this 700-bed, Broward County,Florida Detention Center get paid $160-$180 per/person/night in taxpayer dollars. It is a business and for those who are detained, it’s a scary one. 

The main subject of the film is  Claudio Rojas. His family reached out to the N.I.Y.A after the Florida gardener was detained with no warning. ICE ambushed this mild-mannered, law abiding family-man with a 20-year gardening business in front of his own home and detained him for 6 years. home and detained for 6 years. Those who are detained have no idea if or when they are going to be released. It tears families apart. Activist Marco Saavedra, learns the ropes of what life is like inside from Claudio. They forge a bond. 

Viri had trouble getting arrested at first. She had to change clothes and speak in more broken English before the guards at the checkpoint believed she was undocumented. She’s finally detained and begins to learn the stories of other detainees.

The film shows how these people live constantly with the threat of being deported. The scene where one of them is actually put on a plane about to take off is absolutely frightening. 

The events of this film occurred during the Obama administration but, Rivera says that under the current administration, the situation has changed even more dramatically. At times this mashup of a docu-drama is a little confusing, but bares the desperation of immigrants still present today. Ibarra and Rivera have created a riveting piece of filmmaking that definitely grabs you.

Oscilloscope Laboratories       95 minutes         Documentary

Virtual Cinema list starting May 1st.           VOD June 2nd. 

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