1. It’s a dystopian epic set in Mexico that deals with the horrors of migrant labor. What other sci-fi film does that?
In this terribly haunting dystopian future, the U.S. has found a way to obtain cheap migrant labor WITHOUT the migrant. Director Alex Rivera creates a gritty world that can only be described as a cross between Blade Runner and Children of Men.
In Sleep Dealer, the U.S. has closed itself off from the world with a fortified wall that makes migration impossible. Migrant workers in the U.S. have been replaced by robots, forcing would-be emigrants to work as robot operators from Tijuana, Mexico, “The City of the Future.” The film follows Memo Cruz, a young migrant worker, who’s forced to become a robot operator to make money that he can send back home to his family.
2. It’s one of the first films to tackle the controversial use of remote-controlled drone strikes.
Early on, Rivera paints a picture of a future in which drone strikes in Mexico are not only a common occurrence, but used for purposes of entertainment. Rudy Ramirez, played by Jacob Vargas, is a military drone pilot who destroys and kills from the comfort of a San Diego office.
Interestingly, the film, which went into production in 2007, “predicted the explosion in drone technology,” according to Rivera, who spoke to BuzzFeed via phone. “I was looking at two big changes happening in the world. One change is that technology was connecting the globe. We were becoming more and more connected by the minute. And yet, borders between places, like the U.S.–Mexico border as one example, were becoming more divided,” he said.
“So I thought of a world where borders were sealed shut but technology deleted all borders. And then you start to get this idea of a person controlling a machine somewhere else. That machine is a drone. Some drones works. Some drones fight. So essentially, you have this world where Mexicans work remotely in the U.S. and you have Americans who work remotely in Mexico. So you’re left with a world where people cross borders digitally. That may sound like a strange idea, but it’s based in the world that we [currently] live in.”
3. Luis Fernando Peña, from critically acclaimed films Sin Nombre and De La Calle, delivers a subtle yet powerful performance as the film’s hero.
Luis Fernando Peña plays Cruz, a Oaxacan in search of the “new American dream,” which means working at a “sleep dealer” factory in Tijuana, operating robot laborers in the U.S. He’s got an innocent charm that slowly erodes as he overworks himself in the factory. Memo Cruz is the migrant hero who’s trapped in this dark steampunk abyss of U.S. capitalism. Peña plays the role with a quiet intensity that draws you in from the second he appears on screen.
4. Memo Cruz is the Luke Skywalker of Sleep Dealer.
“There’s almost no Latinos in the future in film,” said Rivera. “I grew up in a family that was in the process of coming to the U.S. They were dealing with traveling across great distances, overcoming incredible challenges. So when I looked at heroes like Luke Skywalker, in a way I felt they were people like my family. Luke is an immigrant or a refugee. His home is destroyed, he goes on the run, he sneaks into the empire, etc. His journey is very similar to the journey that many of our family members go on when coming to America. But we never see that truth shown on film.”
5. Sleep Dealer is a film that speaks to everyone, from those interested in political affairs to sci-fi enthusiasts.
Even though the film incorporates a heavy sense of social commentary, there’s a lot that a hardcore sci-fi fan will appreciate. Like all great sci-fi films in history, Sleep Dealer asks pertinent questions about the human condition. The film asks the audience to reflect upon their use of current technology. Are we really connecting with one another? Are we losing our sense of human connectivity because of technology? Rivera paints us a future that’s very hard to dismiss as improbable.
6. Even though you may have never heard of this film, it’s an award winner and completely worth the watch.
The film won the Amnesty International Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival, the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Award and a screenwriting award at Sundance, and it also won Best Feature at the Neuchâtel International Fantasy Film Festival. The film was also nominated for Best Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards, Sundance, and the Chicago International Film Festival. In other words, this film is awesome.