AI is no match for humanity's strength in this new Latino sci-fi film

Steven Vargas, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

One afternoon, Tita (Laura Patalano), an elderly fieldworker who works picking strawberries, opens her front door. An artificial intelligence humanoid (Nico Greetham) is at the door, its eyes gleaming with an adjusting camera. Tita analyzes the futuristic invention before letting it in.

Tita has hired the humanoid to help her with her work, as she is getting older and isn't as agile as she used to be. But she soon will prove that an AI can't replace her humanity and strength.

This story is immortalized in the film "The Ballad of Tita and the Machines," directed by Miguel Angel Caballero and co-written with Luis Antonio Aldana. It premiered at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival and will make its way to Los Angeles at the NewFilmmakers Los Angeles InFocus: Latinx & Hispanic Film Festival, co-hosted by the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, on Sept. 23. (Disclaimer: I will be moderating a panel at this year's NF M LA.)

NFMLA is a monthly festival that aims to foster fresh voices by providing industry resources to the artists behind the chosen films. The InFocus Latinx & Hispanic Film Festival, in partnership with AMPAS, coincides with the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month. This year's iteration welcomes 24 new films, including "The Ballad of Tita and the Machines."

Caballero was one of 10 filmmakers chosen to create a project for Indeed's Rising Voices program, which financed short films on the theme of "the future of work." He was selected for the program in December, then he went into two months of development at the beginning of the new year. From there he gathered a team of filmmakers to assist in what would become "The Ballad of Tita and the Machines."

The story of the film came with the help of Aldana, whom Caballero met while working in the Latino Theater Lab with the Latino Theater Company. They bonded over being queer Latinos from immigrant families. (Caballero's family lived in Oxnard and Aldana's called Huntington Park home.) While at LTC, they contributed to the creation of 2007's "Melancholia," a play that told the story of a young marine who returns home from the Iraq War and struggles to readjust to his old life.


In their latest work for Rising Voices, Aldana suggested they dive into the history of their own families who immigrated to the U.S. to find work. They took the story they were familiar with and added a futuristic twist: What if AI couldn't keep up with what their families had endured?

"It's a bit of an homage to our working-class families and community that very often are rendered invisible in this country," Caballero said of the film.

Caballero's mother, father and older siblings worked in fields, picking fruits like grapes, oranges and strawberries — the same fruit that Tita picks throughout the short film.

He then mulled on the concept of essential workers, a term that became commonplace at the start of the pandemic to describe people who worked in positions crucial to helping society stay afloat, such as grocery workers, farmworkers and fast food workers. Picking, something often considered "unskilled work," suddenly held a new importance.


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