Fruits of Labor | Review | SXSW Film Festival 2021


Photo Credit: Documentary still from FRUITS OF LABOR

"Dream big, work hard," - the iconography of The American Dream is littered across Emily Cohen Ibañez's documentary, Fruits of Labor. An extension of Ibañez's 13-minute short film made for The Guardian, we get a longer walk with Ashley Solis, a Mexican-American teenager in her senior year of high school.   

There's an unavoidable intimacy to Fruits of Labor, filming in the small confines of Ashley's home where twelve families share one bathroom, a behind-the-scenes look at the reality of the undocumented and their children in America. Neglecting cynicism and instead choosing to focus on the complexities of youth, Ibañez captures the familiar imagery of shopping for prom dresses, getting your nails done and having spontaneous moonlit conversations with a loved one. With two jobs, one in the strawberry fields, another at a food processing factory, Ashley faces the imminent threat of becoming the sole source of income for her family with the rise of ICE raids. 

Ibañez has formed a clear foundational relationship with her subject that allows for complete vulnerability, capturing moments that would usually happen behind closed doors, such as meetings with lawyers and the conversations between mother and daughter.  

The film tackles the reality of poverty with subtlety, choosing to focus on the details of Ashley's life and the unique relatability she has with her friends in the community. They have conversations reserved for adults about saving money and working towards a future their ancestors could've only imagined. Ashley is a change-maker, not only for herself but for those in her town, working towards food security and presenting school projects that even teachers cannot critique - "you're lightyears ahead of where I was at your age". 

Imagery connected to growth, such as a strawberry ripening, flower blooming, and the metamorphosis of a caterpillar, grounds the film in its agricultural roots, anchored by a poetic voiceover from Ashley, who speaks to the concept of persistence. "I am a flower that needs to let herself bloom," Ashley reminisces on the words of her grandmother, whose presence is as strong as Ashley's. These moments flow nicely, briefly breaking up the action of Ashley's day. 

"If we want to succeed, let's not just stare at the stairwell. Let's climb the steps one by one," the words of a classmate's graduation speech feel authored by the filmmakers. It so perfectly captures the world we spend 76 minutes within and echoes the collective experience of the community who work hard and are still yet to reap the rewards of their labour.

Ibañez and Solis flood their narrative with compassion, and, despite the specificity of Ashley's unique experience, it speaks to the moment we are living through with poverty rising in all corners of the globe and those disparities being more prevalent than ever. Documentaries such as this are why the genre remains so vital. It brings us closer to issues often sensationalised by media, stripping the conversation back to its human roots and holds a mirror up to a society consistently perpetuating harmful narratives. It says, look at me, I am like you, and together we can do better. 


Fruits of Labor is playing at SXSW Film Festival 2021

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