Filmmaker and digital media artist Alex Rivera screened his film “Sleep Dealer” on Wednesday in Kresge Auditorium, followed by a discussion on the issues of technology, immigration and globalization highlighted in the film. 

“Sleep Dealer,” released in 2008, imagines a dystopian future in which poor workers on the Mexican side of the border with the United States digitally control robot factories that have replaced the need for their labor. The film raises questions about the injustices of border control and economic globalization through the story of Memo Cruz (Luis Fernando Peña), who flees his family’s home after a deadly drone attack and ends up connecting his body from a digital factory in Mexico to a robot laborer in the U.S.  

In addition to his 2008 feature film “Sleep Dealer,” Rivera’s works include two music videos, including one for popular R&B artist Aloe Blacc, as well as various short films, websites, and other projects. His films have been screened at venues such as the Museum of Modern Art, The Getty and Lincoln Center. “Sleep Dealer” won multiple awards at the Sundance Film Festival and the Berlin Film Festival.

  “Using sci-fi as a way to talk about issues in the contemporary moment provides a way to think about how far we can push immigration,” said Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Marcos Lopez, who helped bring Rivera to campus.

Rivera’s film made its way onto several syllabi at Bowdoin before the director’s visit this week. Three upper-level Spanish classes, a labor course taught by Lopez and a film course taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies Sarah Childress use “Sleep Dealer” as a source on issues of labor, immigration and place. 

While fictional, the reality of the film anticipated legal and cultural questions that have attended more widespread use of technology in the developing world.

“This idea that was at first political satire is now becoming reality in so many ways,” said Rivera.

“Sleep Dealer” critiques the digitization of the modern world and the U.S.’s exploitation of migrant workers for cheap labor and reflects on the human cost of quickening globalization.

“The accelerated cross-border migration that we’ve seen in the past 20 or 30 years is a different side of the extraordinary explosions in technology that have also occurred,” said Rivera. “It’s all one process of globalization and of disintegration of space.”

In the film, Rivera draws a parallel between the sense of alienation that comes with life in the digital world and that which comes from living on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The film questions the purpose of incremental changes in technology, who they serve, and how to reconcile the personal disconnections created in the digital age. 

“It’s a chance to ask these questions through a multicultural point of view, and that’s how technology, which is an international matrix, needs to be seen,” Rivera said.

Immigration, Rivera added, is the only part of globalization that is criminalized. Though migrant workers are a necessary element of the American economy, he wanted to highlight the barriers to entry that remain prevalent. 

“There’s this xenophobic, nativist rhetoric that [people use to refer to] undocumented people and treat them as these precarious laborers,” said Lopez. 

“We, in this capitalistic society, exploit those who don’t really have a voice and who we deem as lesser than us,” said Michelle Kruk ’16, one of the leaders of the Latin American Student Organization (LASO). “But at the same time we rely on their labor to function.”

Kruk said that LASO had hoped to bring the issue of immigration to the surface, and the group played a major role in bringing Rivera and his film to campus. She noted the film’s relevance to the student body. 

“There are a lot of Latino students who either were undocumented or have family members who are or were undocumented and it’s a really difficult discussion to have,” Kruk said. 

The event was sponsored by the Blythe Bickel Fund, Sociology and Anthropology, Romance Languages, Latin American Studies, Cinema Studies, the Office of the Dean of Multicultural Student Affairs, the McKeen Center for the Common Good and LASO.