AURORA | A harrowing hike through scorching deserts with no water or food – or even shoes for some – usually results in an immigrant or refugee crossing the US-Mexico border in Las Hieleras (“the freezers”) and icy cells in immigration detention centers in the south holds edge.
A reproduction of the cells is the first stop for the audience of “CARNE y ARENA” (“Meat and Sand”), the groundbreaking virtual reality solo experience by Oscar winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu shows the next three months on the Stanley Marketplace in Aurora.
In total, the experience lasts around 20 minutes. First you will be told to go into a room, take off your shoes and socks, and put them in a locker. Then wait for an alarm to signal you into the next room. Shoes, some of which obviously belonged to young children, are strewn on the floor. They were gathered along the border. The room is cold and bright.
When the alarm sounds, go to the next room. They are equipped with a virtual reality headset, a backpack and headphones. Suddenly you are transported to a desert that is initially calm. Then hear and feel the helicopters above and see migrants running towards you. It’s hard to get out of the way quickly without shoes or socks. The sand is coarse. The scene quickly becomes chaotic. Border guards, searchlights, sirens, weapons, dogs.
There are no actors. After completing the VR experience, put on your socks and shoes and meet all the people who inspired the film via vignettes that resemble a face-to-face conversation. Some of the people were just young children when they tried the crossing, some paid coyotes, almost all of them running away from gang violence in Latin America.
“During this project, I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing many Mexican and Central American refugees,” says Iñárritu of the experience. “Their life stories haunted me, so I invited some of them to work with me on the project. My intention was to experiment with VR technology to study the human condition, to break the dictatorship of the framework – within which things are being observed – and to claim the space that allows the visitor to have a direct experience when going to do in immigrants. Feet, under their skin and in their hearts. “
“CARNE y ARENA” made its debut in an aircraft hangar at the Festival de Cannes in 2017.
The immigrant stories in the VR experience are no different from many at the GEO Group’s privately owned immigration detention facility, just 2.5 miles away on the other side of Central Park.
The closeness is not lost for Congressman Jason Crow, who attended the experience last week.
It was his second time that he had this experience. The first was in Washington, DC two years ago. “CARNE y ARENA” has played all over the world, including Mexico City, Milan and Los Angeles.
It was just as moving as the first time, he said.
“What is so powerful is that much of the immigration and border security debate has been a very sterile one. It was about numbers, metrics, guidelines, ”said Crow. “And the amazing thing about it, I think, is the people behind it. People are affected and this humanizes the debate and political discussion about the real human impact and cost of what is happening, “said Crow.
The new congressman, who faces re-election against Republican Steve House this year, knows this debate well. In his first two years in Congress, he made transparency a top priority in the local immigration prison. Each week, either Crow or one of his staff will check in at the facility and ask about living conditions, disease outbreaks, and even what’s on the menu. The Accountability Reports, as Crow calls them, are a bridge between the detention center and the outside world. Without them, it is extremely difficult to get information about what is going on in the facility.
Most of the detainees are awaiting hearings on whether they will be sent back to their home country or whether they will be allowed to stay.
“I think some people lose sight of the fact that for much of the GEO facility’s recent history, the vast majority of those detained there are asylum seekers. These are people who took this very trip and experienced what we just went on to seek a better life with their families and applied for asylum under US law at the border. And they are locked up and treated like prisoners. I think we all have to put up with it, ”said Crow. “The great thing about this exhibition is that it takes people out of their comfort zone and thinks about it more deeply.”
“CARNE y ARENA” gives viewers a glimpse into the entire border crossing experience, from hobbling through a desert without shoes to waiting in the freezers, which according to some migrants is the most painful part of the trip.
For Crow, sitting in Las Hieleras is a reminder of a tough system that many agree that reforms are needed.
“I think our policies are obviously geared towards achieving certain results, but the way we conduct politics should reflect our humanity and our values,” he said. “And especially in the last few years, there have been several examples of guidelines showing only shear inhumanity.”
WHEN YOU GO
“CARNE y ARENA” runs from October 23 to January 30, 2020 on the Stanley Marketplace in Aurora. Tickets cost between $ 35 and $ 55 and can be purchased from denvercenter.org.