News Column

Zombie Workers Stealing American Jobs

June 6, 2013

Jim Beckerman

Zombie apocalypse ("World War Z," coming June 21) is old Hollywood news. So is zombie romance ("Warm Bodies," released in February). But are you ready for zombie labor problems?

"Dead Man Working," from Woodcliff Lake filmmaker L.E. Salas, making its Garden State debut at the New Jersey International Film Festival in New Brunswick on Saturday, gives new meaning to the term "working stiff." Not to mention "scab labor."

"It's a situation, a hypothetical thing," says Salas (the "L." stands for "Luis"). "What if the dead were coming back to life and taking jobs away from the living?"

Part pseudo-documentary, part satire, part horror thriller, "Dead Man Working" is one of 25 films, selected from 344 entries, that are getting their state premieres at the 18-year-old festival, which highlights original - often quirky - independent shorts and features. This year's festival runs through June 16.

"It's unusual, you don't normally see something like this," says Al Nigrin, founder and curator of the festival. "He was able to take this zombie craze and use it in a way that was not derivative, to further a kind of commentary on the state of immigration."

The 67-minute short feature, three years in the making (it was filmed in Woodcliff Lake and New Milford, among other places), is on the bill with three shorts: "Franky and the Ant," "Killing Time with Lizzie Boredom" and "Cold Turkey."

Immigration is indeed one of the subtexts of "Dead Man Working" - - and not by accident.

Salas, born in Jersey City, is himself the son of a Cuban father and Peruvian mother. In fact, his father made a perilous 14-mile swim (aided by an inner tube) through shark-infested waters in 1969 in order to seek asylum with the Americans at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. So the 33-year-old filmmaker is especially attuned to the immigration debate now roaring through Congress.

"Immigration is something I've always been interested in," says Salas, who will speak after the screening. "I can understand why people would be upset, but I don't think they see the big picture. [Immigrants] do contribute to American society. Immigrants are everywhere. Everybody's been an immigrant at some point."

But it wasn't until Salas, a film industry pro with some 11 films under his belt (most as editor, writer or producer), happened to be working as an assistant director in Los Angeles on someone else's low-budget zombie film, that he hatched his own offbeat idea. Zombies, he mused, were everywhere in the pop culture world. They were even being portrayed as romantic figures. Eureka!

"I thought, these zombies are taking jobs away from models and pin-up girls," he recalls. "That's the moment I said, 'Wow, that is a really good premise for a film. What if zombies came and took blue- collar jobs away? They would be the perfect workers. They wouldn't need health care because they're already dead. They wouldn't need the things we give to our lowest workers.' "

All, of course, a pointed commentary on the illegal aliens many of us resent but are still willing to employ in our fields, factories and homes. "Dead Man Working" pursues the parallel, in ways that provoke laughter, thought and thrills. Moms are shown hiring zombies as nannies. Fashion designers are seen employing zombies as models. "They're thin," Salas says. A funeral-home owner spearheads an anti-zombie movement for self-interested reasons. "Her business and her life is burying people and making sure they stay buried," he says.

Adding to the fun: real "experts" who weigh in on America's zombie problem. Among the prominent names in the talking-head interviews: Noam Chomsky.

"I presented the idea to him via email," Salas says. "He said, 'Chilling. Set up a meeting.' So we went to MIT, and they gave us a half-hour interview with him."

WHAT: "Dead Man Working."

WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE: New Jersey International Film Festival, Voorhees Hall No. 105, George and Hamilton streets, Rutgers University Campus, New Brunswick. 848-932-8482. For complete festival schedule: njfilmfest.com.

HOW MUCH: $10; $9 for students and seniors.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Lesalas.com.

Originally published by Email: beckerman@northjersey.com.

(c) 2013 Record, The; Bergen County, N.J.. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

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