Frontera Fund News

5 Must-See Films about Immigration

Gael Garcia Bernal

Underwater Dreams
A David and Goliath story for the technology age, this documentary chronicles how four undocumented teens bested the country’s most elite engineering students in a sophisticated robotics competition. With a rock-bottom budget, the boys from a gang-riddled Phoenix high school cobbled together a robot from cheap Home Depot parts. But these underdogs of the underwater robotics world beat a team of MIT university students with a ritzy robot sponsored by Exxon-Mobil. The film has moments of heartbreak when we learn how the Dreamers’ challenging futures contrast with the MIT students’ charmed careers. But ultimately it’s an inspiring story about empowering Dreamers to succeed against all the odds.

Frozen River
This tense, gritty drama shifts the immigration story from the familiar Southwestern desert to the bleak ice-scape of the Canadian border. Two tough-as-nails moms eke out a living on the forgotten fringes of society – Lila on the Mohawk reservation and Ray in hardscrabble poverty. Driven by increasing desperation, the women partner in smuggling equally desperate immigrants over the border. But, as the women learn, survival, friendship and family take priority over the icy-hearted rule of law. Melissa Leo earned an Oscar nomination for her raw portrayal of abandoned wife Ray.

A Better Life
Slow-burning yet tear-jerking, this moving film shines a rare light on people who typically live in the shadows: undocumented workers caught precariously between preying criminals and the threat of deportation. Mexican immigrant and single father Carlos works all hours to create a better life for his teenage son, Luis, who is more impressed with L.A.’s tattooed gangs than with his honest, ethical father. But when Carlos’ livelihood and money is stolen – and he can’t report the crime – father and son join forces to get his possessions back, and Luis comes to respect Carlos’ quiet courage.

Sin Nombre
This harrowing tale of violence, desperation and hope plunges viewers into the hell of Mexican gangland, atop of the “Train of Death,” and into murky rivers on a journey from Central America to the U.S. When Casper, a member of a murderous Mexican street gang, betrays his gang and saves a Honduran girl from rape, the two must make the already dangerous journey north pursued by vicious thugs. Despite the occasional Hollywood moment, the movie is filmed with such gritty realism it sometimes feels like a documentary.

Who Is Dayani Cristal?
Every time the body of a migrant is found near the U.S.-Mexico border, it marks the end of one person’s story and the beginning of another. This documentary weaves those two tales together: the dramatization of an immigrant’s journey from Central America to Arizona, and interviews with the forensic anthropologists and government workers attempting to identify the man. Gael García Bernal stars as the migrant, whose only identifying mark is a tattoo of the words “Dayani Cristal.” The documentary takes viewers behind-the-scenes at Colibri Center for Human Rights, where compassionate individuals work to identify migrants’ remains and reunite them with their grieving families.