Viet Film Fest and The Infiltrators Infiltrate an Orange Theater

Seadrift. Photo courtesy Viet Film Fest

Compared to most other mainstream cineplexes, the AMC Orange 30 at the City or the Block or the Outlets or the Pterodactyl or whatever the hell they are calling it now has always managed to sneak in multicultural programming. Sure, it may have Joker on a constant loop in most cineboxes, but during a recent week, the AMC also devoted screen time to Spanish, Japanese and Latinx titles as well as one movie co-directed by a French woman and a Brazilian man.

So it’s no surprise that the same cineplex is making screens available for all 43 entries in the 11th Viet Film Fest running Friday through Sunday, as well as showings the following weekend of select offerings during the 10th-annual OC Film Fiesta, which also rolls films in Anaheim, Buena Park and its Santa Ana base.

The Viet Film Fest opens Friday with the U.S. premiere of OC resident Charlie Nguyen’s rom-dramedy My Mr. Wife, which features interconnecting stories of chance encounters and was adapted into Vietnamese from the 2007 English novel Busy Woman Seeks Wife by Annie Sanders. The film is followed by the opening-night reception across the outdoor mall at Saddle Ranch Chop House.

Five other features worth checking out:

• The retrospective screening of Heaven and Earth, Oliver Stone’s 1993 adaptation of two Le Ly Hayslip autobiographies that detail her family’s escape from Vietnam by boat and their struggles as refugees adapting to SoCal life. The movie is followed by a scheduled audience Q&A with Stone and Hayslip. (Sat., 3:30 p.m.)

• Leon Le’s international award winner Song Lang, which is about the unlikely friendship that develops between a loan-shark lackey and a musical-theater performer. (Sat., 7 p.m., followed by a festival party and awards ceremony at South Coast Plaza’s Water Grill.)

Made in Vietnam, Canadian Vietnamese filmmaker Thi Vo’s personal documentary about searching for his father in Vietnam after having come to Canada as a refugee with his mother and not having seen or heard from his dad since they split. (Sun., 1:30 p.m.)

• Tim Tsai’s documentary Seadrift, which is about a fishing-territory dispute along the Gulf Coast 40 years ago that led to racism and violence against Vietnamese refugees—and is followed by a panel discussion on whether anything has changed. (Sun., 3:30 p.m.)

• The closing-night picture The Immortal from part-time OC resident Victor Vu, whose horror-thriller fantasy is about a man (Quach Ngoc Ngoan) who makes a decision that alters generations and leaves him facing consequences that reach beyond his lifetime. (Sun., 7 p.m.)

Six more features and 30 short films also screen during the fest.

The 11th Viet Film Fest at AMC Orange 30 at the Outlets, 20 City Blvd. W., Orange; vietfilmfest.com. Fri.-Sun. See website for show times. $11-$15 per program; opening-night reception, $65; Saturday-night party and awards ceremony, $80; all-access pass, $350.

The Infiltrators. Photo courtesy OC Film Fiesta

One can’t-miss OC Film Fiesta entry is the “hybrid” documentary The Infiltrators from co-directors Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera. She is a veteran, Mexican-born, El Paso/Ciudad Juarez-raised, now-Brooklyn-based documentarian who specializes in films dealing with her native country’s culture and traditions. He is the New York City-born son of a Peruvian-immigrant father and creator of acclaimed documentaries and experimental films, although he is best known for his excellent 2008 sci-fi mind-bender Sleep Dealer, which explores the intersection of technology and life at the U.S.-Mexico border as a fever dream that would give Black Mirror’s Charlie Brooker night sweats.

Ibarra and Rivera cleverly depict real-life activist Dreamers from the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) infiltrating the Broward Transitional Center, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security facility in Florida for detaining the undocumented, so work could be done from the inside to win releases for those facing deportation because of low-level offenses. A video camera had been trained on the grassroots activists as they met in homes and at their office/restaurant through to their car rides over to the detention center in 2012.

First, we see NIYA’s Marco Saavedra self-deport at the hands of detention officers for the GEO Group, a Boca Raton-based private company that staffs prisons, mental-health wards and, on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “state-of-the-art residential centers” (that are surrounded by high walls and barbed wire). No camera was present for what happened next, so the screen dissolves to show “Marco” in an orange jumpsuit inside the facility, only now Saavedra is being played by actor (and lookalike) Maynor Alvarado, as a title card explains.

Later, the same type of setup and identity switch are employed with NIYA activist Viridiana Martinez and the actress who portrays her, Chelsea Rendon, for undercover work on the women’s side of the joint. The infiltrators go about helping different detainees, at best, win freedom and, at worst, avoid deportation. This is done by the secret spread of documents and immigration-lawyer phone numbers that should be familiar to anyone who caught the final season of Orange Is the New Black.

Ibarra and Rivera have crafted a compelling, suspenseful and enlightening motion picture that balances disappointment, joy and redemption. Times and a presidential administration have changed so much since 2012 that what the brave activists did would be even more dangerous and potentially self-defeating today. Bet they never figured those would be the happy days.

The Infiltrators screens at AMC Orange 30; ocfilmfiesta.org. Oct. 26, 8:15 p.m. $5-$10.

OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.

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