Docu-Thriller Shares Story of Daring Activists Who Infiltrate Immigration Detention Facility30 Apr 2020
As attacks on immigration have become a signature element of the Trump Administration, it is easy to forget that the monumental hurdles faced by the immigrant community didn’t begin with his inauguration. Immigrants have long been targets of racist and xenophobic rhetoric and legislation. One of the lynchpins of the immigrant struggle has been the push for a path to citizenship for those who were brought to the United States as undocumented minors. This fight for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act escalated during the Obama Administration, and it is this contentious moment in history that is the subject of the fascinating new hybrid thriller / documentary entitled “The Infiltrators.”
Set in 2012, the film centers on a group of young undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, who successfully infiltrate an immigrant detention center in Pompano Beach, Florida. The group’s leader, Marco Saavedra, is a prominent immigrant activist and member of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), who grows frustrated with the limited results of the sit-ins and petitions favored by the group. He devises a radical plan: to intentionally get arrested and detained at the Broward Transitional Center and spend the time inside recruiting other immigrant prisoners to activism and developing a plan to legally free them. Saavedra is later joined by Viridiana Martinez, an undocumented woman and fellow NIYA member, who is also intentionally detained and carries out their plot on the women’s side of the detention center.
While “The Infiltrators” recounts real-life events, the film’s directors Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra, had to be especially creative in telling the story of Saavedra and Martinez. Since most of the action takes place inside a detention center, the directors were unable to shoot that footage on location. Instead, they employ skillful reenactments to convey what transpired between the detainees, while also weaving in interviews with Saavedra, Martinez, and other actual participants in their plan. This unconventional narrative approach garnered rave reviews, and the film won several awards when it premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival last year. [See Part Documentary, Part Thriller, ‘The Infiltrators’ is a Tense, Politically Engaged Drama by Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, 29.Apr.2020.]
In an interview with Mezcla, shortly after “The Infiltrators” swept Sundance, the film’s directors and cast members noted that they were careful to portray a diverse group of immigrants in their film, in part to counteract stereotypes about the undocumented community. “This isn’t just a Latino issue and we are all affected the same way,” said Mohammed Abdollahi, an Iranian-born undocumented member of NIYA who is also featured in the film. “It was really a showcase of people coming together from many different cultural backgrounds to trust one another and to show what’s possible.” And Rivera was particularly proud that “The Infiltrators” challenges the typical depiction of immigrants in mainstream media as either criminals or hapless martyrs. “We’re here to push back and tell a story in which immigrants are hacking the system and are smarter than their opponents,” she proclaimed. “Immigrants not as victims, but as leaders, as visionaries.” [See Alex Rivera & Cristina Ibarra on Their Sundance Winner: It’s “Ocean’s 11 Set in a Detention Center” by Carlos Augilar, Remezcla.com, 14.Feb.2019.]
The film is scheduled to be released for streaming on May 1, 2020.
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