Film Festival Brings Oscar Nominees and Immigration Discussion to Des Moines

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- A film festival kicked off Thursday at the Des Moines Arts Center that's bringing Oscar nominees to town.

The Define American Film Festival focuses on the issue of immigration and will screen immigration-related films ahead of the Iowa Caucuses.

The festival will show six feature-length films preceded by six short films.  All of the films explore different immigrant experiences through narratives and documentaries.

“The stories that are told about immigrants and refugees is important because everyone has a story to tell and everyone deserves their story to be told,” said Seygbai Kai, who attended the festival Thursday. “I personally come from a background of that."

The conversation at the film festival also involved attendee Jessica Dunker. She said her mom was in a refugee camp and came to the United States after World War II. She said her family was sponsored by a church in Oelwein when they moved to Iowa.

The festival also brought Oscar nominees to town.

Christopher Weitz is currently writing the upcoming film “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” He's best known for his work on the film "About a Boy," which he co-directed and was nominated for an Oscar.

Demián Bichir is a Mexican actor who is best known in the United States for his role in the FX drama “The Bridge.” He was most recently in Quentin Tarantino's “The Hateful Eight” and was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor for the 2011 film “A Better Life,” which was shown at the film festival Thursday.

The festival was organized by Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, filmmaker and the founder of Define American, a non-profit media and culture organization that seeks to elevate the conversation around immigration and citizenship in America.

“It’s really hard to think of another issue as politicized and as partisan as immigration. I've been here in Des Moines now for a few days and it's been fascinating just watching the television ads from the candidates. Whenever immigration comes up, I'm wondering if they talking about human beings. It sounds like they're talking about insects,” Vargas said.

The festival is an effort to show reporters covering the candidates’ different angles of the immigration debate and introduce a more human angle to voters of what's become one of the most contentious issues of this presidential election.

Click here for more information about the Define American Film Festival.