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Sundance 2008: “Sleep Dealer.”

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"Is our future a thing of the past?"
Pointing a camera at your roommates and having them improv scenes about failing relationships is a lot friendlier to a low budget than trying to paint a portrait of a dystopian hereafter, even with the decreased costs of CGI. So we have to give points to Alex Rivera’s "Sleep Dealer" before we even get into the film — it’s not only an ambitious sci-fi vision of the near future, it’s heavy with social commentary on the globalized economy and the promise of the internet versus the actuality of what it delivers. In the world of "Sleep Dealer," corporations have built dams so that they can control the water supplies in developing nations, forcing locals to purchase their liquid by the liter under the watchful eye of a camera/machine gun combo controlled by someone miles away, a situation that drives some of the angrier to "aqua terrorism." People access the net through "nodes," jacks implanted directly into their skin, which allows überbloggers to upload their memories to a site for others to buy and would-be workers to take low-paying jobs in more glamorous locales without ever leaving, say, Tijuana. Factories, nicknamed "sleep dealers" by those exhausted from working at them, let employees link up and control robots in other parts of the world, serving in construction, in food service, in child care without ever sullying the nations of their employers with their presence.

Rivera and co-screenwriter David Riker have come up with an arresting vision, one that’s teeming with cruelty condoned for the sake of capitalism. The film’s weakness is the story that carries us through it, in which Memo (Luis Fernando Peña), a farmer’s son from a small town in Mexico, attracts the attention of corporate enforcers with his dabbles in hacking and gets his father executed. He heads to the city to find work with which to support his family, meeting aspiring writer Luz (Leonor Varela) on the way. Neither Memo nor Luz manages to become more than an inert narrative means of ushering us through to new parts of "Sleep Dealer"’s world, from the gleaming San Diego headquarters of the company that owns the water in Memo’s hometown to the back-alley businessmen — "coyoteks," the best bit of the film’s slang — that offer node jobs to those who can’t afford to see a doctor. The film gets bogged down in the pair’s watery romance, eventually bringing in another character to offer a half literal deus ex machina ending. It’s the film’s imagery that lingers, particularly that of the factory workers lurching like undead puppets through the motions of faraway work and sometimes getting fried by power surges. It’s a cutting answer to the utopian dream of web connectivity leaping boundaries — in "Sleep Dealer," most of those boundaries remain firmly in place, and connectivity only makes it easy for those in power to exploit those who aren’t.

"Sleep Dealer" currently has no U.S. distribution. It was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Prize for outstanding film focusing on science or technology.

+ "Sleep Dealer" (Sundance)

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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