Science Fiction From Below

by Mark Engler
ZNet / Foreign Policy In Focus

Tapping into a long tradition of politicized science fiction, the young, New-York-based filmmaker Alex Rivera has brought to theaters a movie that reflects in news ways on the disquieting realities of the global economy. Sleep Dealer, his first feature film, has opened in New York and Los Angeles, and will show in 25 cities throughout the country this spring. 

Set largely on the U.S.-Mexico border, Sleep Dealer depicts a world in which borders are closed but high-tech factories allow migrant workers to plug their bodies into the network to provide virtual labor to the North. The drama that unfolds in this dystopian setting delves deeps into issues of immigration, labor, water rights, and the nature of sustainable development.

Rivera’s film drew attention by winning two awards at Sundance–the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and the Alfred P. Sloan Prize for the best film focusing on science and technology. Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan wrote of the movie, “Adventurous, ambitious and ingeniously futuristic, Sleep Dealer… combines visually arresting science fiction done on a budget with a strong sense of social commentary in a way that few films attempt, let alone achieve.” 

Rivera spoke with Foreign Policy In Focus senior analyst Mark Engler by phone from Los Angeles, where the director was attending the local premier of his movie.

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