With Desierto now in theaters (read the review), and illegal immigration being such a hot topic in the presidential election this year, it seems only right to remember some of the following flicks about the immigrant experience.
Mojados: Through the Night (2004) Director Tommy Davis accompanied four men as they make a 120 mile journey across the Texan desert over the course of 10 days and edited into a 55 minute film. It won the Grand Prize at the San Antonio Underground Festival, Best Documentary at the Santa Fe Film Festival and Arizona International Film Festival, and the Audience Awards at the Kansas International Film Festival and SXSW Film Festival.
Sangre de Mi Sangre (2007) This Argentinean-American thriller tells the story of Pedro (Jorge Adrian Espindola) a young Mexican boy who travels to Brooklyn in search of his long lost father Diego (Jesus Ochoa of Man of Fire and Beverly Hills Chihuahua). But Pedro’s identity is stolen by a young imposter Juan (Armando Hernandez of Fast Food Nation) out to steal Diego’s savings. Pedro then teams up with the streetwise Magda (Paoloa Mendoza from The Undying) as he tries to find his dad. It won the Grand Jury Prize for a Dramatic Film at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards.
Frozen River (2008) Courtney Hunt made her debut writing and directing this crime drama. Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo, The Fighter and Prisoners) is a working class mom hoping to purchase a new trailer home. She teams up with Native Hall Bingo Hall employee Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham from Skins and August: Osage County) in a dangerous business of transporting illegal immigrants from Canada to the U.S. by driving them over the frozen Lawrence River. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, Best Female Lead from the Independent Spirit Awards for Melissa Leo, and was nominated for two Academy Awards including Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay.
Sin Nombre (2009) Cary Joji Fukanaga (Jane Eyre, Beasts of No Nation, and True Detective) wrote and directed this Mexican adventure thriller. Sayra (Paulina Gaitan who later starred in the cult horror hit We Are What We Are) is a young Honduran girl. Along the way she ends up with two companions Casper (Edgar Flores) and Smiley (Kristyan Ferrer) members of a Mexican street gang seeking to escape the violence. Besides being the film that put Fukanaga on the map it also won awards Best Directing and Excellence in Cinematography at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. (Yep I’m seeing a pattern for movies about immigration and the Sundance Film Festival, too.)
Which Way Home (2009) Rebecca Cammisa received a Fulbright scholarship to direct this documentary that would air on HBO. Cammisa followed several children trying to get from Mexico and Central America to the U.S. on top of a freight train known as “La Bestia.” (The Beast). It won an Emmy Award and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and Academy Award for Best Documentary.
Top photo: Bigstock
Oliver Stone’s films are not just entertainment; they are political statements. His new film, Snowden, focuses on the former CIA employee and government contractor who leaked information about widespread global surveillance by the U.S. government. The film is a sympathetic portrait of a whistleblower. And while many believe that Edward Snowden should face prosecution, others have lauded his actions. In June, 2015, President Obama signed the USA Freedom Act, which sets some limits on what telecommunication data intelligence agencies may collect on U.S. citizens, a law that might not have happened, some say, without Snowden’s disclosures.
Snowden, viewed in the closing moments of the movie, seems to be taking advantage of any positive feelings that may result from Stone’s film. As Barack Obama heads into the final months of his administration, a time when many presidents issue pardons, Snowden is asking for one. In statements made to The Guardian, the British newspaper that first broke the story, Snowden called what he did “vital,” and “moral.” Snowden, who first fled to Hong Kong, has been living in Moscow. While White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has said that Snowden would face charges if he returned, former Attorney General Eric Holder in May said that Snowden had performed a “public service” by sparking a debate about surveillance. Stone’s film seems perfectly timed to continue that conversation.
While Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been acting since he was a child and has appeared in dozens of films and TV shows, he will be a new discovery to many theater goers who will turn out to see him as Snowden. That low profile allows him to disappear into the role. He bears a physical resemblance to the title character, but it’s his performance that serves as the core of the film. He allows us to see his transformation, from an ardent patriot who believes the U.S. is the greatest country in the world (he’s asked that question in numerous polygraph tests along the way), to a disillusioned patriot who believes that post-9/11 the country has gone too far, sweeping up “metadata” on its citizens. At one point, he resigns from the CIA, so concerned about what he sees happening. But before too long, he’s back in and what he learns the second time around leads him to take action.
Snowden was a high school drop out who never graduated from college. (He earned a GED and took classes at a community college.) After 9/11, he enlisted in the Army, hoping to become Special Forces. A broken leg revealed more serious health problems and he was discharged. Looking for another way to serve his country, he applied to the CIA. When agency heavyweight Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans) asks Snowden why he wants to join the CIA, he responds that it would be cool to have such a high security clearance. O’Brian is nonplussed by the answer, but he recognizes Snowden’s talents and hires him. The two become close but their relationship will be tested again and again.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley
Shailene Woodley plays Snowden’s long-suffering girlfriend Lindsay Mills. Although they meet on a site called Geek-Mate, Lindsay is a photographer, not a techie. She’s also liberal, while Snowden still defends the Bush Administration. His security clearance prevents him from sharing anything about his work with Lindsay. As he becomes aware of just how far surveillance has gone, his moves to protect their privacy – covering up the camera on her computer with tape, claiming that their home is being bugged – come across to her as extreme paranoia. Yet she remains loyal and follows him to Tokyo and Hawaii. (In the closing credits we learn that Lindsay has moved to Moscow to be with Snowden.)
Melissa Leo, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Wilkinson, and Zachary Quinto
The film toggles back and forth between Poitras’ interview with Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel room, and scenes from Snowden’s past while he was climbing the intelligence ladder. Melissa Leo plays Laura Poitras, who directed and produced Citizenfour, the Oscar-winning documentary about Snowden and Zachary Quinto plays Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who interviewed Snowden with Poitras’ camera running. There’s a claustrophobic feel to those hotel scenes, the tension building as the authorities threaten to close in. Once the Guardian story appears (according to the film, the outcome was never assured with Greenwald pushing his London editor, Janine Gibson played by Joely Richardson, to get it done) the hotel is overrun with journalists. Snowden manages to escape, hiding out for days in rundown sections of the city, eventually making it to Moscow.
Stone hasn’t had a high profile film in years. Snowden should put him back on the map.
Snowden opens nationwide September 16, 2016.
Photos Courtesy of Open Road Pictures