Southern Circuit returns for spring semester with immigration docudrama


Brandon Elledge, Business Manager

Southern Circuit returned to Neville Auditorium last Thursday to continue this year’s series of its independent films. This time in the spotlight was The Infiltrators, a film depicting the reality of undocumented immigrants living in deportation facilities.

Directed by award-winning filmmakers Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra, Infiltrators is a docudrama blending documentary elements with drama in order to retell a true story. While the acting takes up most of the runtime, there are still frequent segments of real-life footage and interviews with the real people behind the dramatized characters.

When Claudio Rojas is arrested at his home and threatened with deportation, the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), a support group for migrants and dreamers, sends one of its members, Marco Saavedra, to “infiltrate” the detention center by intentionally getting himself arrested in order to be incarcerated in the prison, all in the hopes of meeting Claudio and helping him obtain his freedom. 

But upon his arrival at the detention center, he discovers many other unlawfully jailed undocumented migrants. Taking action, Saavedra, with the aid of the NIYA and Rojas, works to provide the inmates with legal resources they need to file for their rights and their release. With up-and-down progress, they are able to prevent the deportation of numerous migrant prisoners. In the end, when Saavedra, Rojas, and their other assistant, Viri Martinez, need their own liberation, the NIYA organizes a protest at the detention center that successfully pressures the officials into releasing the three heroes.

Infiltrators won the NEXT Audience Award & NEXT Innovator Award at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It has also received positive reviews from critics and good ratings from sites like Rotten Tomatoes (78%) and IMDb (7.2/10).

In a review from The Guardian, critic Jordan Hoffman calls the film “angry and impressive immigration docudrama.” He also said that “The Infiltrators’ punchline… is that this action took place in 2012. The film concludes in the era of Trump, in which everything about the manufactured problem of ‘immigrant caravans’ has only gotten more hysterical. If there’s any silver lining, at least more people are aware of the problem thanks to the subjects of this film.”

“Ibarra and Rivera maintain an effortless balance between genre-rooted entertainment and concern for real human suffering,” said a review from The Hollywood Reporter. “Rather than feeling like homework, watching it is a thrill.”

The blending of documentary footage and scripted drama makes the film feel more real. Its thrilling dramatization of past events simulates a close encounter to the story’s situation, while the juxtaposition of this drama with real footage of and interviews with the actual participants adds a layer of authenticity, as well as emotion, to the film. This hybrid of authenticity and acting renders an effectively realistic and heartfelt view of the story as a whole.

Overall, Infiltrators leaves viewers questioning the ethics of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the morality of increased border security. They are also urged to reconsider the concept of citizenship as well as what it means to be an American.

Many ethical questions face the American people who are somewhat divided on issues of border security and undocumented migrants. Should we open or reinforce our borders? Should we provide an easier path for citizenship? Should immigrant detention centers be closed? Do illegal immigrants even have a right to be here? Should the government protect the rights of dreamers? 

Considering these questions, one thing that The Infiltrators does very well is to take Americans out of their own shoes and to place them into those of undocumented migrants, to see things as these marginalized people do. It provides them a special insight which can significantly impact their answers to the questions above, answers that will (or should) be more considerable of the needs and well-being of migrants.

“Now more than ever we need to be reminded that the poor and huddled masses are real people with real families, all yearning to be free,” says Richard Trenholm, Movie and TV Senior Editor for CNET.

While everyone regardless of nationality would benefit from The Infiltrators, this film is essential viewing for any active or potentially-active U.S. citizen. With tools like voting, petitioning and protesting, the citizenry is a major component in bringing change. And whether or not that change is for the better or worse depends on their determination to be “informed citizens,” who concern themselves with social injustice such as that seen in Infiltrators.

For those that missed this month’s Southern Circuit event, there are still two more films scheduled for this semester: Light From Light (starring Jim Gaffigan) on March 5, and Little Miss Westie on April 21. These films will be shown in Neville Auditorium at 7:00 PM and will conclude with Q&A sessions with the directors.