Define American Film Festival Explores Immigration Pre-Caucuses

Jan 21, 2016

Before Iowans make up their minds before caucus night, Jose Antonio Vargas wants them to consider a few more perspectives. The founder of Define American, a non-profit organization dedicated to pushing forward the conversation around immigration, he decided to bring that discussion to Iowans through film.

"The conversation is way too simplified. We don't have enough context and we don't have enough facts. The goal of this festival at its core is to really humanize the issue and to present a vast array of stories. There isn't one immigrant story."

The festival includes a large intersection of films, both fiction and non-fiction, that cover everything from an undocumented Latina woman's journey to Muslim comics' efforts to spread understanding to a second generation Indian-American's attempt to find love.

Vargas says film can play a particular role in unspooling the complexity of the immigrant experience.

“How do you legalize people you call illegal? You don’t. You call them illegal—end of the conversation. And then once you kind of step back on that and unpack why people think that, you start to understand that the average American, because it is a complicated issue, doesn’t really understand how the immigration process works.”  

In this River to River interview, Ben Kieffer speaks with Vargas and with Mikaela Shwer, director of Don't Tell Anyone, one of the films playing at the festival. More information on the festival can be found at