THE BROKEN BORDER: MENDING THE CAMINO REAL
Santa Fe Council on International Relations
413 Grant Avenue, Suite D
Free to CIR members
This 2008 sci-fi classic takes place on the US-Mexico border, and like all good sci-fi focuses on philosophy and the big questions and ideas. The film depicts a dystopian future to explore ways in which technology both oppresses and connects migrants. A fortified wall has ended unauthorized Mexico-US immigration, but migrant workers are replaced by robots, remotely controlled by the same class of would-be emigrants. Their life force is inevitably used up, and they are discarded without medical compensation.
SLEEP DEALER (90 minutes)
Sleep Dealer was directed by Alex Rivera and co-written by Alex Rivera and David Riker. It stars Luis Fernando Pena, Leonor Varela and Jacob Varga. The movie won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, The H.R. Giger Award for the Best International Film at The Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival, and a special mention Amnesty International Film Prize at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival. The film was nominated for a Breakthrough director at the Gotham Independent Film Awards 2008, and an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature in 2009.
‘Sleep Dealer’ is set in a future, militarized world marked by closed borders, virtual labor and a global digital network that joins minds and experiences, where three strangers risk their lives to connect with each other and break the barriers of technology.
“The film is set in Mexico and is almost entirely in Spanish (with English subtitles). Its opening sequences, located in a tiny farming town in Oaxaca called Santa Ana del Rio, look the opposite of futuristic — except that a few years back, a multinational corporation dammed up the local river and armed guards and surveillance cameras now enforce exorbitant payment for water usage.
Twentysomething Memo (Luis Fernando Pena), the son of a farmer, is something of a techno geek, addicted to hacking into telephone conversations. One night, he eavesdrops on one conversation too many and the result so affects his family that Memo decides to leave town and head for Tijuana, a center for the new global economy, a place where serious money can be made.
Truth be told, Memo has always wanted to go to Tijuana, to become a “node worker,” a term he’s heard but never completely understood. Eventually, he learns all about this unnerving system, which, someone says, “gives the U.S. what it always wanted: all the work without the workers.”
If this sounds a little mysterious, that’s the way “Sleep Dealer” likes to play things, doling out information a bit at a time, exposing us to a high-tech world where factories are called “sleep dealers” because they lead to physical collapse before we completely understand what’s going on.
Before Memo gets into this world, he meets Luz (Leonor Varela), the film’s requisite beautiful young woman, on a low-tech bus. An aspiring writer, she has a relationship with a different kind of futuristic technology as well as her own reasons for wanting to stay in touch with Memo.
Then there is Rudy (Jacob Vargas), a drone-operating military pilot in this security-conscious society who is first seen on a reality TV show about “heroes who use technology to blow the hell out of the bad guys.” Only it’s not that simple. It never is.
‘Sleep Dealer’ has its share of potboiler elements, and human relationships are not its strength. But that’s not the point. Filmmaker Rivera succeeds in his goal of using science fiction to put a different spin on some provocative issues, and he’s made an exciting movie in the process. When Memo’s father asks rhetorically, “Is our future a thing of the past?,” he turns out to be speaking for all of us, whether we realize it or not.” – Kenneth Turan, L.A. Times
Scott, of The New York Times wrote “Exuberantly entertaining — a dystopian fable of globalization disguised as a science-fiction adventure…. Mr. Rivera — a brilliant young director — takes his audience into a future of “aqua-terrorism” and cyberlabor that I wish I could dismiss as implausible…” in his review of the 2008 New Directors/New Films Festival.
Kenneth Turan, of The Los Angeles Times wrote “Adventurous, ambitious and ingeniously futuristic, “Sleep Dealer” is a welcome surprise. It combines visually arresting science fiction done on a budget with a strong sense of social commentary in a way that few films attempt, let alone achieve…” in his review of the film.