This Wednesday afternoon, students packed the Titan Student Union Pavilion to attend a film screening of Sleep Dealer, a Latino science fiction film, and a Q&A session with the director, Alex Rivera. The screening was presented by the Department of Chicana/o Studies as a part of their Café Con Leche event series.
Rivera is a digital artist and filmmaker from New York. Sleep Dealer was his first feature film and took more than 10 years and two and a half million dollars to make.
Sleep Dealer was the winner of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, a nominee of the 2008 Gotham Independent Film Awards, a nominee of the 2008 Film Independent Spirit Award, and has been screened at many international venues including the Berlin International Film Festival, MOMA and the Guggenheim Museum.
The film tells the story of Memo Cruz, a young man caught in a dystopian society where Latinos remotely provide labor to the United States via implanted nodes, allowing them to perform tasks by controlling robots and drones.
The world Rivera created is entrancing, a seamless blend of Mexican culture and the fascinating node technology that seems an eerie possible future.
Rivera saw this movie as an attempt to examine the contradictions of immigration issues.
He was inspired by the development of the Internet, the 1994 ballot initiative concerning immigration, and the wall built between the U.S. and Mexico.
“The Internet,” Rivera said, “really didn’t flourish and become a reality until the mid 1990s. And so there were all these dreams about what it was going to do.”
Rivera said people talked about “telecommuting” and a “global village,” believing that the Internet would erase borders and tie the world together. There was talk of working from home and avoiding problems such as traffic.
Once Proposition 187 and anti-immigration sentiments arose, Rivera asked himself if in the future, the borders would stay but people would work over the Internet.
Rivera’s ideas about Latinos remotely providing labor led to the making of a short film with this theme, a satirical propaganda short that screened at many film festivals and encouraged him to create a longer film, he was fortunate to have the support of several institutions including New York State Council on the Arts and the Jerome Foundation.
Rivera said he was also lucky to work with producer Anthony Bregman, who also produced Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
It was a long journey, said Rivera, but he hopes that his film will challenge viewers to get involved.
Janet Bernarbe, the educational coordinator of the Chicana and Chicano Studies Alliance (CASA), attended this event to support the Chicano Studies Department.
She became interested in seeing the movie after she saw the trailer in a class and said she really enjoyed the film.
“They want… the labor and the money for a good economy like the U.S. (but) they don’t want the actual immigrants in the U.S.,” said Bernarbe.
She said that attending this event was a great opportunity to network and discuss different points of view.
Gabriela Nunez, Ph.D., organized this semester’s Café Con Leche event for the Department of Chicana/o Studies. She chose Rivera’s film for the event because she was familiar with his work as a presenter.
“He has a really strong ability to connect with students and to talk about these large important issues such as immigration globalization, legislation that’s anti-immigrant,” said Nunez. “He’s able to talk about them in a way that I think is understandable and engaging for students.”
She hopes the students who attended will view the creativity of communities coming together as a topic of the film because of new legislation that confirms a strong anti-Latino sentiment.
“We have to take it upon ourselves to tell these stories in the face of the monster of anti-immigration and anti-Latino sentiment,” Nunez said.