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Four Reasons 2014 Will Be the Year of the Immigrant on Film (VIDEO)

Photo of Matt Brennan By Matt Brennan | Thompson on Hollywood! January 27, 2014 at 1:24PM

From reportorial nonfiction to epic drama, from the couch to the art house, immigrants past and present will be at the forefront of 2014's film offerings -- not to mention your cable news network of choice. As the Congressional debate over immigration reform heats up and the midterm election gears begin to turn, here are four things to watch for:

4. In the new film "The State of Arizona," local politics hold national implications.

Embracing a series of poignant juxtapositions -- between legislative debate and direct action, Tea Party rallies and ESL courses -- Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini's timely documentary emerges as a compelling work of pro-immigrant advocacy not because it is opinionated, but because it is fair.

Airing tonight at 10/9c on PBS' "Independent Lens," "The State of Arizona" strikes a chord of journalistic balance. Sandoval and Tambini recognize that one need not misrepresent the views of figures like Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County and a hero of nativist politics, to convey the xenophobia that imbues anti-immigrant sentiment. Even the strenuously polite Kathryn Kobor, a focal point of the film, cannot temper her racialized vision of dystopia. "If you're illegal, go home," she says. "I don't want to live like I'm in Calcutta!" Set against Jorge Martinez and Ampero Mendez, undocumented immigrants operating an ice cream truck and raising a teenage son, it's Kobor and her compatriots who seem most likely to go rogue. All it takes to achieve border security, one anti-immigrant protestor's shirt contends on this point, is ammunition and good aim.

Glimpses of the rationale behind such language, namely misplaced frustration with structural economic changes that have made labor cheap and homes worthless, prove too complex for Sandoval and Tambini to pursue at length. The film succeeds more as a snapshot of grassroots organizing on both sides than as an analysis of the immigration debate's sociopolitical underpinnings. Even so, as the camera rolls, the core illogic of the anti-immigrant position becomes clear: Kobor, nostalgic for an Arizona that supposedly was, traces her ancestry, like so many Americans, to somewhere else. As "The State of Arizona" communicates with assurance, it's precisely because belonging is in the eye of the beholder that rights must be universal.

This article is related to: Reviews, TV, DVD and VOD, Interviews , Features, Genres, Documentaries, Drama, Directors, Diego Luna, Michael Peña, James Gray, Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Two Lovers, Jeremy Renner, The Immigrant, Cannes

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.