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SoCal Filmmakers Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra Receive the MacArthur 'Genius' Grant

A montage of 25 photos of the 2021 MacArthur Fellows on a purple background.
SoCal filmmakers Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra were among the recipients of the MacArthur Grant this year.
(MacArthur Foundation)
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Southern California can claim four MacArthur Foundation "geniuses" this year — and two of them are a pair of married filmmakers, Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra.

Rivera tackles issues such as migration and labor in his films, but says — like most kids of the 1970s — Star Wars was a huge influence for him. In his eyes, it was an immigrant story in which Luke Skywalker smuggles himself in the trunk of a spaceship to escape his war-torn planet.

"As an adult, I realize we celebrate these types of characters in cinema on one side, but then disparage people who are living that journey — like my family — on the other side," Rivera said.

For her part, Ibarra draws inspiration from her childhood, growing up in the border town of El Paso, Texas. She says the fellowship will help her think about how to give more opportunities to Latino filmmakers.

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"How can we continue to tell our own stories despite what we're being fed by these institutions that aren't quite working for all of us?" Ibarra asked.

Rivera and Ibarra combined forces on the 2019 film The Infiltrators, using documentary and narrative storytelling to follow activists who were purposefully detained at an immigration facility to educate others about their rights.

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