By Liz Lopez

Rating: B-

The jobs held by 18-year-old Ashley is in her senior year of high school, as featured in the documentary “Fruits of Labor” that screened at the SXSW Film Festival, include working the graveyard shift in a food processing plant and her mother, Beatriz cleans other people’s houses. Nothing glamorous and not the jobs that people are lining up for, pre or post pandemic. While Beatriz is limited by her undocumented status, Ashley has the potential for so much more as a Mexican American trying to finish her basic education in California’s central coast. Frequently too exhausted from the all-night assembly line work to attend daytime classes (aside from agricultural labor), she is worried about graduation and if she has enough credits. She has worked since age 15 to help support three younger U. S. born siblings.

Emily Cohen Ibanez’s debut feature provides a limited view of real- life laborers in her 77 – minute documentary. It is the start of focusing the lens on these families, but there is so much more basic information to include about the women laborers and others like them.

Life in California is not cheap, thus people with limited income have to make do with the housing they can find. In this case, they live in a dilapidated house with one bathroom, shared with 12 other families (not seen). Nor are Ashley’s two youngest siblings, but we do see her boyfriend Adrian, as well as her 16-year-old brother Ashford. It is not clear if he is employed or how he has money for video games and his girlfriend. Why is Ashley supporting the household, almost as the principal breadwinner. It would be good to have more input from Beatriz, who worries about being targeted for deportation after viewing TV reports of the family separation policies and ICE raids.

Fruits of Labor may have some brief spots of information that is not included in this documentary, but it is still adding to the conversation about women, the labor and respective challenges they face. The film also has a good original score by Yamil Rezc.

The documentary was acquired for U.S. broadcast by POV after its SXSW premiere and will be part of that nonfiction PBS showcase’s next season. I am glad that it will be seen by a greater audience aside from the film festivals.

Crew: Director: Emily Cohen Ibanez. Screenplay: Ashley Pavon, Emily Cohen Ibanez. Camera: Gabriella Garcia-Pardo, Ibanez. Editors: Kristina Motwani, Andrea Chignoli. Music: Yamil Rezc.

With: Ashley, Adrian, Beatriz, Ashford, Ximena. (English, Spanish dialogue)


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