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Border Crossings 

Sci-fi and immigration issues merge in Sleep Dealer

Director Alex Rivera first became interested in immigration issues when he took a good look at the life of his Peruvian father.

"My first film told his life story through this cracked lens, where I compared his journey from Peru to America to that of the potato," says Rivera. "The potato is of Inca origin and came to the U.S. through conquest. Father in Spanish is "papa," and potato in Spanish is "papa." They converge when my dad becomes a Peruvian couch potato, sitting on the sofa watching Spanish-language television. When I started to look at my dad's life and the fact that he watched so much Spanish-language TV, it showed that even though he was here, he was still profoundly connected to the place he left behind. He was living in a borderland in his mind. His mind was floating between New York and Peru in a third space. My interest in border culture came from reflecting on my dad's life."

Then Rivera started to travel to the U.S./Mexico border and made a few documentaries about his experiences. He began to think about creating a "wild science-fiction piece that will reflect on border issues and immigration." The film, Sleep Dealer, centers on the life of Memo Cruz (Luis Fernando Peña), a poor farmer who gets into a bit of trouble when his rigged radio transmitter intercepts a U.S. military transmission.

As a result, his house is destroyed and his father is killed, so he moves north to the border where he gets a job working in a futuristic factory. There, he hooks himself into a computer and begins life as a virtual construction worker. By connecting to a mainframe via a series of nodes that are surgically embedded, he helps assemble a San Diego skyscraper located on the other side of the border. Without being overtly political, the film comments on life in the maquiladoras, the factories that line the Mexico/U.S. border.

"Someone called this science faction, meaning it's science fiction and documentary," says Rivera. "That was the strategy. We wanted to take real locations that look surreal today. If you go to Tijuana or the outskirts of Mexico City, you see real locations that look more surreal than anything in Mad Max. The scary thing is that every week that goes by, the film gets more and more accurate. I think the world is catching up with our movie."

jniesel@clevescene.com

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