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AIFF Day 3: The struggle of Dreamers

Independent movie lovers seek out independent directors who tell it like it is and are not bound by television's tattered creed of trying to appear “balanced” or its hesitancy about offending the powerful.

In that vein, Ashland Independent Film Festival's chief exposé this year is “The Infiltrators,” a feature-length drama-doc, based on a true story about how activist Dreamers (children of undocumented immigrants who grew up here) found ways to get themselves arrested and slapped in detention centers, where they organize to halt deportations of low-priority immigrants.

The Dreamers, members of Infiltrators National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), focus on one man, Claudio Rojas, who was nabbed out of his front yard, with family watching, while he took out the recycling one morning. He was a longtime resident of this country but had spent three years in the Broward Transitional Center in Florida.

One Alliance activist, Marco Saavedra, self-deports, with plans to impede the deportation of Rojas — and gets scores of other detainees on board, fasting and chanting, while NIYA gets the case on TV news and floods the offices of politicians with phoned complaints. It works. Rojas is released and embraced by his family.

It's brilliant, both the tactic and the doc, which combines real footage outside the facility with acted drama that happened inside. It's also politically powerful, and directors Alex Rivera and Christina Ibarra say, speaking on stage Friday, has become a standard in the battle for immigration justice.

The film has shamed ICE and its erratic standards for deportation, so, they say, it seems an act of retaliation that when Rojas went in for his annual interview with ICE, they detained him and deported him last week to his native Argentina, even though he had broken no laws. If that hadn’t happened, they said, Rojas would have been standing there on stage with them.

“The only difference (in his status) is that he’s in the film,” said Ibarra, “so it’s about freedom of speech.” Donations to his cause may be made at gofundme.com/free-claudio-rojas.

DACA was created in 2012, but the directors noted that, during the early Barack Obama presidency, huge numbers of them were stuck in limbo and couldn’t find jobs, but the program greatly accelerated their integration into society here.

They also said detentions have gone way down during the Trump administration as California and other states “broke the relationship” between police and ICE which enabled cops to arrest immigrants for minor infractions and hand them to ICE for deportation.

Film festivals are often rich in flicks about great social wrongs and oppressed victims, so it was refreshing to see them outsmarting the bad guys and marching around the detention center shouting “libertad!”

In “Hearts of Glass,” we go inside Vertical Harvest, a multi-story hydroponic vegetable farm in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, that trains people with disabilities in a range of skills at a living wage, enabling some to take on managerial skills and even get a mortgage and own a home.

The project takes a lot of devotion from people training the disabled (or “differently abled”) in the smallest detail, even folding a cardboard box as, eventually, they master delivering produce and keeping a range of crops thriving.

Normally, employees might be told: this is how it’s done so do it, but here, managers “appreciate the nuances of each person’s character and be inspired by how one community is dealing with pressing social and environmental issues,” as director Jennifer Tennican notes, in a statement.

The film won both the NEXT Jury and Audience awards at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. The 18th annual AIFF runs through the award ceremony Monday evening.

“The Infiltrators” directorsChristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera{ }