The Infiltrators


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Infiltrators
"By being specific, the filmmakers put relatable "faces" to the bigger picture, showing rather than telling us exactly how the system 'works' for those who become trapped in it." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera use re-enactment to strong effect in this documentary that considers a group of young undocumented US migrants - often referred to as "Dreamers" - who took direct action to extremes in order to find out exactly what was happening in America's deportation centres and then to try to do something about it.

There have been other films about the draconian activities of ICE (the US customs and enforcement agency) and their methods of scooping up people they believe to be illegal - described here, not unreasonably, as akin to kidnapping. But rather than get bogged down in the statistics and overt politics of the situation, the directors show us what happened in this specific instance instead, blending judicious first-person testimony from those who spent time in the facility in Broward County, Florida, with the story how two young people deliberately got themselves incarcerated there in order to help others get out.

Marco Saavedra (who like everyone here appears as himself as well as being played by an actor, in this case Marco Alvarado) is one of those who turned up at the doorstep of the centre and declared himself "undocumented", although, as he explains in the introduction to the film - whether you call his status that, "illegal" or "deportable", "they're all just words for afraid". A member of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), he had spoken to the son of detainee Claudio Rojas (played by Manuel Uriza) and hoped to be able to get him released.

By using re-enactment, the documentarians are able to cover the ground quickly, immersing us in the day-to-day workings of the euphemistically named Broward Transitional Centre and showing how many of those held there are denied any sort of due process, often for months on end. Little details pepper the backdrop - such as the fact that nobody can be visited by anyone who doesn't have a drivers' licence or the fact that some of those incarcerated are there because they tried to report domestic violence.

By including these things in the fabric of the film, Ibarra and Rivera are able to keep the focus on the 'thriller' aspects of the story as Marco, and later another NIYA member Viridiana Martinez (played by Chelsea Rendon) set about trying to get disclaimer forms signed so that they can get other detainees legal help. The production values may have the air of a telenovela about them but they never detract from the weight of the stories being told and this more dramatised style of retelling is likely to win over audiences beyond the usual documentary circuit. By being specific, the filmmakers put relatable "faces" to the bigger picture, showing rather than telling us exactly how the system 'works' for those who become trapped in it.  The sheer bravery of what these youngsters did in order to try to change that system becomes increasingly obvious as the stakes get raised and this film could well do more than just inform people of some unpalatable facts about the deportation system it could also help change attitudes. When you learn that Rojas was, in fact, later deported in April 2019, it makes you realise that change may come too late for many at Broward.

The Infiltrators is available in the US via Oscilloscope's Virtual Cinema from May 1 and on VoD from June 4. More details from the official site

Reviewed on: 29 Apr 2020
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The Infiltrators packshot
A rag-tag group of undocumented youth – Dreamers – deliberately get detained by Border Patrol in order to infiltrate a shadowy, for-profit detention centre.
Amazon link

Director: Cristina Ibarra, Alex Rivera

Starring: Maynor Alvarado, Manuel Uriza, Chelsea Rendon, Juan Gabriel Pareja, Vik Sahay

Year: 2019

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: US


Sundance 2019

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