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Willmar film festival to highlight stories of immigrants

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WILLMAR -- Immigrant stories, as seen through the lens of a movie camera, will be featured in a month-long film festival that opens Monday with a showing of "The Visitor."

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The free four-week series was organized by the Willmar Area Comprehensive Immigration Reform coalition to help raise community awareness of the issues surrounding immigration.

"Why do people immigrate? What are their stories? What happens when they come here? These films help show some of these stories," said the Rev. Naomi Mahler, one of the members of the local coalition.

The films will be shown at 6 p.m. on four successive Mondays -- March 8, March 15, March 22 and March 29 -- in the theater at Vinje Lutheran Church.

Each will be followed by open discussion led by a moderator.

Organizers hope the film series will stimulate interest and discussion.

"We're excited. I'm looking forward to sharing this. I've learned a lot from watching these movies too," Mahler said. "We'd be very pleased if we had the place filled."

Monday's film, "The Visitor," was released in 2007 and stars Richard Jenkins, whose other acting credits include the HBO series "Six Feet Under." Jenkins plays a disillusioned college professor who unexpectedly finds friendship with two undocumented immigrants who move into his New York City apartment.

"God Grew Tired Of Us," which will be shown March 15, won both the Grand Jury Prize and the audience award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. The documentary tells the story of three boys from Sudan who leave their war-torn homeland, travel barefoot across the desert to reach a UN refugee camp, and ultimately find new homes in the United States.

The filmmakers began filming "God Grew Tired Of Us" after visiting a refugee camp in 2001 and meeting many of the thousands of Sudanese youths, known as the "lost boys," who fled their villages during the Sudanese civil war and banded together to survive. A camera crew accompanied a group of the youths chosen for resettlement in the United States, and followed three of them for the next four years as they acclimated to a new culture and new lives.

On March 22, "Under the Same Moon (La Misma Luna)" will be shown. Filmed in Spanish with English subtitles, it's the story of a boy who crosses the U.S.-Mexican border to find his mother, an undocumented worker in Los Angeles.

The movie was nominated for several awards and won three, including two young artist awards in the best international film feature category.

On March 29, the final night of the film festival, a movie selected by the audience will be shown.

Mahler said the organizing committee brainstormed a list of several possibilities.

"The three films we chose represent all different countries and backgrounds," she said. "We had such a hard time deciding that we decided to leave the last week open."

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