Directors discuss ‘The Infiltrators’, a true story documentary

Co-directors Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra, who come from immigrant backgrounds, created the documentary to showcase the injustice of separating families. Photo by Mia Fortunado, staff photographer

Expanding on La Frontera, a semester-long initiative to dive deep into issues surrounding the U.S.-Mexican border, Chapman hosted a screening of the documentary-thriller “The Infiltrators” in the Digital Media Arts Center Oct. 8.

“The Infiltrators” focuses on the true story of a group of young immigrants that work for the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) who purposely get detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to help undocumented immigrants to freedom from the inside.

Co-directors Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra utilized their similar immigrant family backgrounds to create the documentary to showcase the separation of families. The filmmakers also advocate for the abolishment of the detention system as a whole. Contact with the NIYA began around 2011, a year before the infiltration, and the filmmaking process followed the young activists on their political campaign in and out of the detention center.

“The biggest message for me is that age doesn’t necessarily decide how much of a difference you can make,” said Leah Sherman-Weiner, a senior film production major.

Ibarra described the actual infiltrators as creative in their organization; they saw “themselves as actors” and played the part of breaking into the system.

“We realized we had a great story, but we only had filmed half of it – the outside half,” Rivera said. “We didn’t have the part inside the detention center and we (had) to use some radical strategy to visualize that.”

This lent itself to the scripted scenes of the documentary. The actors played the roles of undocumented immigrants and activists on a parallel plane intended to “transgress space rather than time,” Rivera said. These reenactments functioned to show the pieces of the film that were prohibited in the detention center.

“This is an overarching issue that takes place before and after the film. You see that the situation is always changing and the safety is never guaranteed for (immigrants),” said Calista Kirk, a freshman documentary and broadcast journalism major. The main protagonist, Claudio Rojas, fights on behalf of the NIYA and participates in a hunger strike, A week before the film’s Florida premiere, Rojas was detained by ICE and deported back to Argentina under an order that was said to have come from a “higher power,” according to the filmmakers.

“You see the backlash of being on the bleeding edge of a political and human crisis that obviously all the lives in the film don’t stop,” Rivera said. “The system that you’re critiquing does not just sit there quietly.”

But Rivera and Ibarra have been actively pursuing a lawsuit in defense of Rojas, claiming that if an immigrant appears in journalistic work and is victimized for their media persona, it could prevent immigrants from speaking up. The International Documentary Association (IDA) supports Rojas’ case and wrote a letter to the U.S. government which requested his release and claimed that Rojas has been “punished for expressing his opinion within a film” and “will have a chilling effect on the work of journalists” on projects beyond.

Aside from the film’s historical relevance and challenge to journalism ethics, it pushes cinematic boundaries as well, according to Sundance Film Festival, with its distinct genre-bending nature, featuring a documentary spine cloaked in a narrative style. The festival website praises the film’s “hybrid cinematic language,” and critics attributed this unique style and worldly significance to its win of both the audience award and the jury award at the festival.