FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Dealing Sleep

I was out of town and missed the first 10 days of this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival, but luckily I made it back to the Bay Area in time to see the premiere of ‘Sleep Dealer.’

I was alerted to the film via a rave New York Times review in which A.O. Scott described director Alex Rivera “showing some of the manic inventiveness of Richard Kelly’s ‘Southland Tales,’ but with a hundred times more intellectual clarity and storytelling discipline.”  I’d forgotten that line until going back to look at the Times plug, but bits of Kelly’s wildly entertaining film did pop into my mind while watching ‘Sleep Dealer.’  Both movies are characterized by impressively zippy visuals and caustic social commentary which evokes the bleak dystopian vision of sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick.

Unfortunately, as director Rivera noted in a post-screening Q & A session at the film festival, what started out as satire when he began writing the film (co-written with David Riker, writer/director of ‘La Ciudad,’ an excellent 1998 indie film about Latino immigrants struggling in New York City) in 2000 has moved much closer to documentary realism.  Though there are currently no sweatshops in Mexico where workers plug in via surgically-implanted “nodes” to manipulate U.S.-based robots, Rivera, who paced wildly around the stage as festival director Graham Leggat stood stock still near his orbit, pointed out that ubiquitous call centers in India and elsewhere show how far corporations have gone in developing cross-border “outsourcing” to avoid paying unionized workers.  Bomber drones in Afghanistan and Iraq remotely piloted by stateside U.S. soldiers provided inspiration for the film’s depiction of U.S. military remote-control aerial assaults on peasants branded “aqua terrorists.”

In response to an impressed viewer who said “the Zapatistas would love this film,” Rivera explained that he was profoundly influenced by “Zapatista thought.”  Most particularly, Rivera’s film clearly supports the radical indigenous Mexican movement’s vision of “globalization from below” to counter depradations of global capitalism, ending on a militant note of resistance rare in commercial cinema.

At a time when low-budget Hollywood movies routinely cost tens of millions of dollars, the film’s $2 million budget meant that overpriced computer graphics were not an option for the special effects.  Cinematographer Liza Renzler, who also shot the visually arresting Menace II Society, collaborated with Rivera on some ingenous creative ways to circumvent lack of money (among  them, filming overhead shots of a small Mexican town using a motorized hang glider). Rivera, whose father is from Peru, explained that he used a Latino “pastiche esthetic,” cobbling together a wide variety of available visual materials, from actual U.S. military footage to images from his own experimental short films.

In response to a question from Leggat about the influence of San Francisco radical filmmaker Craig Baldwin, Rivera said, “I don’t know if he’s here in person, but he’s here in spirit.” Baldwin’s found film and video collage narratives include the hilarious oddball sci-fi opus ‘Spectres of the Spectrum’; his new mash-up/send up ‘Mock Up On Mu’ which takes on the military, Disney and Scientology, played at the festival earlier in the week (I’ll be seeing it as soon as humanly possible).

The two fellow-travellers in dissident sci-fi share a giddy enthusiasm for their material that gives their work a charm lacking in most obscenely expensive Hollywood productions.  It’s also much easier to buy a filmmaker’s solidarity with the world’s poor majority if their films do not cost more than some small countries spend yearly on education and health care.

Rivera wouldn’t say what his next film project would be, but told the audience that if anyone had access to financing he’d  love to make a prequel or sequel (“or parallel universe”) story to build on ‘Sleep Dealer.’  I hope that happens, and that he continues to develop his critique of global capitalism run amok.

BEN TERRALL is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. He can be reached at: bterrall@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Ben Terrall is a writer living in the Bay Area. He can be reached at: bterrall@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail