‘Infiltrators’ co-director Cristina Ibarra is the voice of change

Co-directors Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera’s docu-thriller The Infiltrators (available in virtual cinemas May 1) tells the true story of young immigrants who are detained by Border Patrol and thrown into a shadowy for-profit detention center— on purpose. With the current political turmoil, uncertainty, COVID-19 and immigration changes, this film shows us that if we are strong enough to fight the system together, we can succeed. Maybe this is the message we need more than ever now. 

FF2 Media spoke with female director Cristina Ibarra about the unique blend of documentary and feature in the film and how the story came to life. 

How did you and Alex meet and why did you decide to collaborate on the film?

CI: We both come from border crossing families. We are always thinking about how it relates to that point of view for a larger audience. We got to know each other well. When I saw this testimonial by the young girl I almost cried watching it. That was the moment that hit me. This is not just a film about policy or the issue, it’s an emotional film that moves you. Alex and I decided to work together and find a new way of storytelling that combines both, a hybrid style. 

How did you go about the casting process?

CI: The casting process was one of the most challenging. We needed to find someone who would match the real person. We gave them all of the documentary to study and connected them to the real person. They were very involved. 

Tell me about your Sundance Film Festival success? 

CI: We premiered at the Sundance Festival. We were surprised that they selected us for the Audience Award and the Jury Award, and from there we started to get noticed. It is an important thing when you are used to feeling invisible. Since Sundance it has been bittersweet because of Claudio’s deportation. It has been hard. We are trying to get him back and see how the film can help to have him back.

Talk to me about incorporating the acted out scenes with the documentary footage? How long did it take you to make it?

CI: It was wild. When we see the outside of the detention center we have all of the organizers’ documentary footage. When we go inside, there are actors. When we did the true story we did very long interviews. We interviewed real detainees in detention centers during the infiltration. We had all these materials and we put them together in story lines. We did not exactly know how it was going to work. We had placeholder scenes inside the detention center. We made it more accurate to the real experience and the film took off to a new life. It was a very long process. The infiltration happened in 2012 and we didn’t start until 2014. It took us a couple of years. Between 2014 to 2018 we did the documentary part where we were perfecting the narrative. The next phase was fictional and it took about a year and a half. Including fundraising, it took us about seven years to make the film. 

Did you reach out to the Dreamers Organization in advance?

CI: We have been in collaboration with the infiltrators. Through their networks we have been able to let people know that this is happening. Having them involved has been very impactful.

How important is this film and story in today’s America?

CI: It’s easy to forget that this kind of backlash started before Trump was elected but the mechanism that he was using was already in place. It’s important to remember that. Now we are able to see that this is happening. He is targeting immigrant activists in a way that we haven’t seen before. Claudio Rojas who came to set us when we were shooting – his voice is being dampened by his deportation. One of the lessons that the activities are leaving is that anyone can help. We want to talk about the issue of free speech and how it is being dampened by deportations. 

How hard or easy has it been for you as a Latina immigrant filmmaker? What challenges have you faced and face on a daily basis?

CI: I feel like I have been able to calculate these challenges. One is a systematic obstacle to creating a film that I care about. The internal obstacle is the idea you have to feel like you are in the room and have that confidence. Systematically, it has been almost a two way street. We build the US. We belong here. Being a woman is the same – externally where you are fighting stereotypes and internally remind yourself that you deserve this and you work hard. 

Can you tell me about your personal immigrant story and what prompted you to become a filmmaker?

CI: My father was documented. I was always thinking about him when I met the infiltrators. I had the privilege to be a documented immigrant from a mixed status family. That really helped me understand what I am witnessing here is a one of a kind leadership. That was extraordinary and never happened before and I wanted to honor that in the film. I don’t have the same issues of invisibility that they do but I care about the people who do. I was supposed to be a lawyer. I discovered media and Chicano studies in college and put the two together. I studied in secret because my parents wanted me to be a lawyer but now they are proud of me. 

What message do you have for other immigrant female filmmakers?

CI: Something I learned is that sometimes our voice should be changed in order to be heard. Be true to what your perspective is. So many people try to change it. If you keep it this is what will make you valuable. 

What will your next project be? 

CI: I am working on a new film set in Honduras. It’s a documentary. 

The Infiltrators is available in virtual cinemas now & will be released on Cable On Demand / Digital Platforms starting June 2. 

© Nikoleta Morales (3/26/20) FF2 Media

Photos courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

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