Director Alex Rivera‘s dystopian sci-fi film Sleep Dealer gets a new lease on life with a digital re-release via Sundance Institute Artist Services. The news follows the 2008 release of the Sundance Film Festival winner, which imagines a horrific future for migrant labor in the U.S. as Mexican workers are married to drone technology and sufficiently exploited without ever crossing the border to physically impact the country’s population. Luis Marentes described the film starring Luis Fernando Peña and its importance to the ongoing immigration debate in a recent piece from LatinoRebels:
A sci-fi thriller, it depicts an uncannily familiar future when infomaquilas, new factories in Mexico where people are physically connected to computer networks to handle robots in the United States, fulfill their North American bosses’ “American dream” by supplying them “all the work, without the workers.” The movie is Rivera’s most elaborate exploration themes that have dominated his films for the last two decades: migration, technology, globalization and social justice.
The re-release follows an initially poor theatrical release via the now-defunct Maya Entertainment. Rivera subsequently bought back the rights to the film and launched a grassroots campaign to fund the re-release. Sundance Institute Artist Services signed on to handle the distribution, which repackages the film as a digital release for a variety of platforms and retailers. Rivera gave an in-depth explanation of the process during a recent interview with IndieWire:
What was the back story of the film? How did you get funding initially?
“Bizarrely and wildly, through social media, I found a new distributor, as well as a high profile campaign partner.”
This is one of those projects that’s a labor of insane love. It took about 10 years to get the film made from having the first idea to premiering at Sundance. During that decade, it was supported by a lot of arts institutions, but most heavily by the Sundance Institute. It went through the lab in 2001 and premiered at Sundance in 2008 where we won a few awards.
So you would think you’d be set after that, right?
Of course, that was the year that the film industry started to transform or come apart at the seams. There were a lot fewer distributors in the market all of the sudden, so we sold the film called Maya Entertainment, which was a new company focused on Latina entertainment. In a lot of ways, it was a traditional indie model. The film was financed by private equity, we took it to Sundance with the hopes of selling it and recouping our investment. We sold it and the distributor took it out to theaters in 2009. It just didn’t really connect with its audience. Maybe it wasn’t handled correctly. One way or another, it wasn’t a theatrical release that connected with audiences. Then, a few years later, that distributor went out of business.
Ugh. So what did that mean for the film?
When a film company goes out of business, everything from the chairs on the office floor to the films in their catalogue become assets. I know so many filmmakers who lost their films down a black hole when a film company goes out of business. It was a frightening situation because this film had 10 years of my life in it as well as the support and help as countless other people and institutions who backed it. We fought really hard — we had good lawyers and a couple of good lawyers to help us get the rights to the film back.
Then once you got the rights back, how did you find a distributor?
I actually posted on Facebook: does anybody want to distribute this film?
Really? That’s a novel approach. Did you get an immediate response.
The folks from Sundance Artist Services called me up and said ‘we’ve got this new initiative which would be perfect because it’s an already negotiated digital pipeline available for all films that went through Sundance.’ With their prominence in the indie marketplace they’ve set up a deal with an aggregate called Cinedigm so that when the films go out they’re branded as Sundance, but they’re going from Cinedigm to the market. It’s a huge change in the history of film festivals as well as in the history of film distribution for a festival to become a distributor.
Rivera will join artist Favianna Rodriguez, blogger Aya de Leon, author Van Jones and other advocates of the project for a live worldwide discussion of the film and the buzz surrounding the re-release. The group will give fans information about the grassroots distribution model that has helped to make the re-release a success and offer details about the making of the film that have never before been released. Check the footage below to watch the trailer for Sleep Dealer. Follow the #SleepDealer hashtag on Twitter and get more on tonight’s Sleep Dealer Tweet Up via Facebook. Join the Tweet Up at 7PM PT and 10PM EST tonight! Purchase and download Sleep Dealer via iTunes. Stay tuned for more.