Miami Film Festival apologizes for snafu over controversial immigration film

The Miami Film Festival apologized Wednesday for withdrawing its support Tuesday night of the controversial film, “The Infiltrators,” which exposes the unjust conditions under which immigrants were held at a Broward detention center during the Obama administration.

The documentary was set to premiere at the festival Tuesday night, the first of two showings, at the Silverspot Cinema downtown. But the night of the show, the festival suddenly refused to introduce the film and moderate its Q&A afterward.

Traditionally, film festivals introduce filmmakers, who then introduce their own work before the film starts, and then moderate a panel discussion after the film. The festival now says it was all a misunderstanding.

Less than an hour before “The Infiltrators” was set to start at 9:15 p.m. Tuesday, a junior festival representative came up to the filmmakers and told them the news.

According to Darren Dean, one of the producers for “The Infiltrators,” the representative said the festival “recused” itself and claimed it did not want to “appear to be taking a side” on the issue or “to take a political stance.”

After the showing Tuesday, Dean shared what happened on his social media accounts

“Silence IS a political act — perhaps the most dangerous one,” he tweeted and posted on Facebook.

“I was really upset,” said 53-year-old Dean, who’s been in the business for about 12 years. “We were caught off guard. We were left to our own devices. I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life.”

The documentary, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah in early February, is about a “group of undocumented youth — Dreamers — deliberately detained by Border Patrol in order to infiltrate a shadowy, for-profit detention center.”

The documentary focuses on the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach. The center, a for-profit facility, serves as a holding space for impending deportations of immigrants who came into the country illegally.

Claudio Rojas, the film’s inside source and an Argentine immigrant himself, leaked to the filmmakers the inner workings of the center. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat who represents parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, called for the center to be investigated in 2012.

Rojas, 53, was arrested last Wednesday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Miramar during his annual visa check-in, records show. He is now awaiting deportation; he has lived in Miramar with his family. Critics say he was arrested in retaliation for his work on the film.

ICE has not commented about the case.

“The Infiltrators” crew was looking forward to talking about Rojas at such a critical time in his case, Dean said.

Ali Codina, a filmmaker who was supposed to be the panel’s moderator, was “horrified” when the festival representative told her she could no longer lead the Q&A, Dean said.

Dean ended up moderating the Tuesday discussion himself, after giving a short statement about how the festival had refused to be involved with the showing. He said the audience was “unhappy” with the festival’s actions.

As soon as the Tuesday showing ended, the Miami Film Festival’s director, Jaie Laplante, apologized to the directors and producers in person. The festival also issued an official statement apologizing to viewers on its Facebook page.

Laplante said the incident began Tuesday night when “The Infiltrators” crew asked the festival’s organizers if a representative of Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Miami, could speak at the showing beforehand. The festival denied the request.

“We plan this festival for an entire year,” said Laplante, who’s a Canadian-American actor, screenwriter and curator. “Running these festivals is a huge undertaking with many moving parts carefully choreographed. We don’t take last-minute requests.”

From there, the festival representative, who was not identified, took that to mean there would be no introduction by the festival before the film, and no panel discussion after the film.

Laplante said the staffer was new to the festival.

“There was never any intention of stepping away from the film,” Laplante said. “If that would’ve been the case, we would’ve probably pulled it instead of showing it. It was a complete misunderstanding, a very unfortunate one.”

Dean said he supports the Miami Film Festival and appreciates Laplante’s apology. But he does’t believe the decision to pull the panel was due to Mucarsel-Powell’s request.

He said someone connected to the festival probably “got afraid of the backlash” or afraid the public would not receive the dialogue well.

“I don’t blame the employees or film festival representatives; they’re just trying to do their jobs,” Dean said. “We’re still trying to find that person or why they chose at this most critical time to not allow the film festival to participate in our dialogue.”

Laplante said he will moderate the second showing of the film Wednesday night.

“We are trying to set it right,” LaPlante said. “We absolutely stand behind this film. It addresses troubling things, and we want to give it a platform.”