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Immigration film ‘Ilegales’ gains momentum on festival circuit

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sometimes life does mimic art and vice versa.

In Luis Bordonada’s case, his role as Ariel Vargas in the film “Ilegales” or “Illegals” had strong correlations with his life.

“Ariel is a day laborer in the film and he came here illegally,” he says. “I also came to this country illegally when I was little. Then my father claimed me and I became an American citizen.”

Though Bordonada filmed the movie in southern New Mexico more than two years ago, it has been gaining steam on the film festival circuit and with video rental. According to, the video rental is in its Top 20 rentals for independent films.

“I think that the film resonates with so many people because immigration remains a hot issue,” he says. “When the film first came out, I was interviewed by CNN about the film because immigration reform was the hot-button issue.”

“Ilegales” is set in the sweltering desert of the Southwestern United States and follows five individuals who are struggling with their circumstances.

♦ Maribel Chacon, a waitress in Juárez, Mexico faces an impossible decision after seven years of failed legal immigration applications.

♦ Ariel Chacon, an honest and hard-working day laborer in New Mexico, battles the temptation of higher wages as a drug trafficker.

♦ Arturo Chacon, working the fields with Ariel, must decide where his loyalties lie when he is suddenly pitted against a smooth-talking government immigration officer.

♦ Ignacio Rivera, a dishwasher in New Mexico, deals drugs to teens in a dead-end town while immigration agents circle in to use him as an entry-way to a Mexican drug cartel.

♦ Jesus “Chuy” Sanchez, a low-level trafficker of both immigrants and drugs, longs for a way out of his miserable life full of violence and fear.

Bordonada says the film was shot north of Las Cruces and marked the first leading role for him.

“When I was a kid in Mexico, we had this little black-and-white TV,” he explains. “It always was interesting to me that no matter how horrible things were happening in life, once you turn on the TV it was an escape. I wanted to be in that box and provide entertainment. Getting the roles in films has been a blessing.”

Bordonada grew up in El Paso and started acting with a theater group in church. And when he got out of the military, he moved to New Mexico and began his acting career. He’s been cast in films such as “The Book of Eli,” “The Reunion,” “Jackie” and “Bless Me, Ultima.”

He has three films in post-production — “The Boys of Abu Ghraib,” “Stars” and “Fort Bliss” as well as two films currently in production — “Things People Do” and “Frontera.”

Bordonada says when he’s not working on a project he is actively seeking out auditions to keep his name in the mix for roles.

“I audition and some things get offered to me,” he says. “The role of Ariel was offered to me and I was nervous about taking it because I don’t want to be typecast at all. In the end, it was the story that won out and I am proud to be part of the movie.”

Getting the lead role in “Ilegales” was icing on the cake for Bordonada. He was up against Los Angeles and New York actors for that role.

“Every person in the cast had more experience than me,” he says. “But I tried not to think about that and focused on my role. It was something special and I’m glad it’s all taking off right now.”

Made in N.M.: Tribeca Film will release “Jackie” at the Guild Cinema, 3405 E. Central, today. The film will screen at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. today through Thursday, May 16. It features twin sisters — a prim, ambitious magazine editor, played by Carice van Houten, and a warm, family-oriented housewife, played by Jelka van Houten — who travel to the American Southwest in search of their biological mother, played by Holly Hunter, whom they’ve never met. Finding her the worse for wear and living out of a battered RV, the sisters drive their mother across state to a rehab center on a journey that will redefine the meaning of “family” for all of them. The film was shot around eastern and northern New Mexico.

SEND ME YOUR TIPS: If you know of a movie filming in the state, or are curious about one, email Follow me on Twitter @agomezART.