Rebels With a Cause: Two “Rogues” Get Awards at AIFF
Sometimes, being labeled a rebel is a compliment, and when the Ashland Independent Film Festival pins the title, it is definitely something to be proud of. This year’s winners are Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra, a filmmaking duo that shares a passion for the history, story, and especially the people of the Mexican-American border. As evidenced in their joint film, The Infiltrators, Rivera and Ibarra tell the important story of the people, creating a hybrid documentary/fiction film focusing on the struggles faced by many. The film also won both the NEXT Jury and Audience awards at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. We were able to connect with Rivera about this unique project, and their other films showing at AIFF—Sleep Dealer (Rivera) and Las Marthas (Ibarra).
Rogue Valley Messenger: How did you find out that you and Cristina were Rogue Award winners this year?
Alex Rivera: Richard Herskowitz, Festival and Executive Director, called us and let us know that we were the winners. It was a total shock, delight, and honor! At first, I thought it was because we were sly, undercover and considered “rogues” but then I learned that “rogue” was the name of the geographical valley.
RVM: How was the experience working together with Cristina on the film, The Infiltrators?
AR: We are both filmmakers working independently. Cristina works in the documentary arena, and I have been working in the world of fiction. The story that we are telling in this film was one that needed both techniques. We use observational documentary to depict our real-world characters outside of detention, but when they go into detention, we depict those characters with actors in scripted form. This is the first time we have made something together with both of our names as director. But we have been comrades and colleagues for over 20 years and now we are parents together.
RVM: Explain why you think The Infiltrators was a creative leap?
AR: I don’t think there has been a film like this before that uses fiction and documentary on one forward-moving timeline. For example, an actor who is portraying a real person in detention picks up a phone and calls someone in the documentary which is outside the detention center. The two forms interlace with each other in an unusual way. The film is meant to take both political and creative risks.
RVM: How is The Infiltrators different than other hybrid films?
AR: Most “hybrid” films use re-creations set clearly in the past. You typically have an interview subject telling a story, and then the scripted section re-creates that story. In The Infiltrators, our documentary layer is primarily real-time observational footage that interweaves with the scripted layer. The two forms run forward in story-time. You never know when you are mixing two elements whether it is going to “oil and water” or “oil and vinegar.” We had no idea if it would work or not, but we are happy with how it came out. We had a concern that the form would be so strange that it would take all the attention away from the characters and the story. It’s an experimental form that is also meant to be very legible, accessible, and to ultimately allow the audience to focus on story, character, and emotion.
RVM: Tell us about your other feature film, Sleep Dealer, at the Ashland Independent Film Festival.
AR: It is a science fiction film set on the US/Mexico border, and it imagines the border is sealed. Instead of crossing the border, workers in countries like Mexico connect their bodies to a high-speed internet and control robots that do their labor on the other side of the border. So their pure labor crossers, but their bodies stay out. The film is an attempt to use science fiction to explore questions of labor and alienation.
RVM: Since Cristina is in Honduras working on another project and could not speak with the Messenger, tell us about Las Marthas.
AR: Las Marthas is a creative and wild exploration of an unusual festival that happens on the US/Mexico border: a celebration of George Washington’s birthday. The largest and longest running celebration, for over 150 years, takes place in Laredo, Texas, right on the border. At the center of the festival are these young women who participate in this sort of baroque pageant and they wear $30,000 gowns that weigh 100 pounds and they reenact Martha Washington’s life. The film is sort of a mystery about why this is happening in Laredo. The answer gets into deep histories regarding land and power in that region but looks at those histories through this sort of funhouse mirror.
RVM: What else do you want audience members to know about you and Cristina as filmmakers?
AR: We live in a time of crisis. I don’t want to make entertainment. I want to make some films that have some political guts. But I also think that to make effective political films, they need to be inviting to watch and visually rich. Film attendees who encounter our work in Ashland will see explosions, sex, women in Victorian gowns, robots and a heist movie about breaking into jail. We are trying to do something meaningful that resonates with the times we live in but also creates great fun cinema.
6 pm, Friday, April 12
Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak Street, Ashland
10:10 am, Saturday, April 13
Varsity Theatre 3, 166 E. Main Street, Ashland
12:10 pm, Monday, April 15
Varsity Theatre 4, 166 E. Main Street, Ashland
3:30 pm, Saturday, April 13
Varsity Theatre 5, 166 E. Main Street, Ashland
TalkBack: Art Against the Wall: Illuminating the Border
10 – 11:30 am, Friday, April 12
Ashland Springs Hotel, 212 E. Main Street, Ashland