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Storytelling through Film: Supporting the Next Generation of Filmmakers

This project will support young people with lived experiences of migration in sharing their perspectives through learning about filmmaking.

Photo of Caitlin Katsiaficas
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

As in other countries, the issue of immigration has become increasingly prominent and contested in public debate across the United States. But while increased attention has been paid to this topic, the common narratives rarely look at the issue of migration in a nuanced or holistic way, focusing instead on one specific issue or point in the journey or the same old talking points. Also frequently—and critically—missing are the perspectives of immigrants themselves. A lack of understanding hurts efforts to have a real dialogue and, ultimately, to build bridges between people on the move and receiving communities. To help address this gap, Immigration Film Fest (IFF) is proposing to partner with locally based organizations such as Docs in Progress, Lighthouse Studio, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute, and Women in Film and Video to conduct trainings and workshops with young people with immigrant backgrounds—a new generation of filmmakers. IFF will also identify experienced filmmakers to serve as mentors for the next generation. In exploring different types of film, learning about storytelling, and engaging in film production, this initiative will help participants use their experiences and voices to create films related to migration, a topic they know intimately and are well poised to communicate in an authentic way. They will be able to tell the stories they want to share and they think are important to tell, which will in turn insert the views of those directly affected into public discussions and help the public see a more complete view of the journey that is migration. And in providing a forum for screening their films, the initiative can also help to bring people together and foster community dialogue. Film is such a powerful tool for educating, communicating, and inspiring audiences, and IFF is eager to harness the power of film to engage communities on the topic of migration.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

Our project will work with young people in the Washington, DC, capital area (the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia) who have immigrated themselves or are living in immigrant families. This area, where IFF and partners are based, is home to a wide range of immigrant and refugee communities.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Our project will help ensure that a wider range of experiences, perspectives, and stories are included in films and discussions on migration—and, importantly, ones told by people with lived experience. The skills learned through the workshops are ones that will last long after the project ends. Meanwhile, screening the films in various public spaces will enable these stories to be shared with a wider audience, bringing people together and sparking community discussion and understanding.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

This project is focused on supporting young people who have directly experienced migration in expressing their points of view in a way that accurately represents what they themselves want to share and tell. In doing so, it strives to provide a venue for participants to express themselves as well as to emphasize that their stories and experiences are valued, something that all people want. The human need for joy and dignity can be achieved through the accomplishment of completing a story or working in teams to accomplish this. Additionally, the recognition provided through IFF’s showcasing of work and giving of awards can offer additional sources of hope and dignity as young filmmakers achieve recognition in their communities.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

We believe this project will have short- and long-term impacts. Through trainings, workshops, and mentorships, participants will learn valuable storytelling and filmmaking skills that will be helpful for them and their work long after the project ends. We hope to continue to cultivate and support a community of filmmakers working on this topic, and believe it is essential that filmmakers with immigrant backgrounds are a key part of this. We will seek feedback throughout the duration of the project from those involved to see how the project is helping and ways it can improve. Additionally, the tangible outcomes of the project—the films themselves—will be given a national stage. In doing so, IFF will bring filmmakers together with community members to talk about their films and experiences, promoting dialogue and positive action. While the number of films created and number of events and attendees can help gauge how effective the project is, we will also look to more qualitative data.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

We have seen in our six years (and beyond) the ways in which film can communicate to audiences in ways that other media cannot—the power of visuals, audio, and storytelling combined. We have also been inspired by the filmmakers and stories which we have been honored to work with and share thus far. We are hoping to build on this work to increase the representation of filmmakers working on this issue who have been directly impacted by it, as we believe this will further strengthen the power of film to help spark understanding about migration.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

The Washington, DC, area (Washington, DC as well as the suburbs in Maryland and Virginia) is home to immigrant communities from all over the world. It includes people who have lived in the area for many years as well as those recently arrived, from all regions of the world, who have immigrated for lots of different reasons. IFF hopes to engage high school students with a lived experience—whether they themselves immigrated or their parents did. It will seek to represent the incredible diversity of local immigrant communities in the program, and, therefore, in the resulting films. We believe this is important to helping show a more nuanced view on migration overall.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

We believe that among those best equipped to share stories of migration are those who have experienced it themselves. We seek to support participants in sharing their stories by helping them develop a final product, a film, with which to communicate what they want to say, as well as skills they can use throughout their life—whether or not they wish to pursue a career in filmmaking. Each year, we screen feature, short, documentary, and animated films from around the world, accompanied by discussions with filmmakers, researchers, and policymakers, and highlighting ways attendees can become involved. In gathering and showing films focused on immigration over the past six years, IFF has a solid understanding of filmmaking on the topic. We have also built connections with local partners working directly with immigrant communities and with filmmakers from across the world, including those with an immigrant background. This will help us effectively tailor workshops and identify mentors.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

IFF hopes to partner with several organizations including Docs in Progress, Lighthouse Studio, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, DMV Sanctuary, Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute, Women in Film & Video and the American University School of Communications. Some partners will help identify and recruit youth to participate, while others will provide professional resources for trainings and mentorships. Once the films are made, IFF also plans to connect these young filmmakers with other organizations we know to highlight their films and lived experience beyond the opportunities provided by our festival. A key partner will be Lighthouse Studio, which has a history of working with youth to develop the skills and confidence to share their stories and build community through collaborative film projects. They have also partnered with several non-profits to focus on particular issues, and IFF will work with them to develop a program specific to immigration.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Systems design: Solutions that target changing larger system

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototype: We have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Group or Organization Name

Immigration Film Fest

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

The IFF is a volunteer-run initiative that brings stories of immigration to diverse audiences around the Washington, DC area through an annual film festival. Now in our sixth year, we hold several events per year at various community spaces including George Washington University and Washington National Cathedral. Our goal is to tell stories of global migration through the art form of film and humanize the plight of immigrants by showcasing their stories. In doing this, we seek not only to entertain but also to inform our audiences and provide the means by which they can take action. An important next step in reaching our goals is to go beyond showing finished films to also actively support the next generation of aspiring filmmakers and, more specifically, those with lived experience of migration. Partnering with organizations that have a long history of training young people in filmmaking will allow all to harness our areas of expertise to undertake a successful project together.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

IFF began as an initiative of the Washington Ethical Society, a nonprofit in Washington, DC, USA, and it is our technical home.

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Washington, DC


Join the conversation:

Photo of Patricia

Hello Caitlin Katsiaficas ,

It's great to learn about your idea. We've seen a number of great ways film and photography has been used to share experiences that young people have. Have you seen Dadaab Stories ( in Dadaab refugee camp? The project allows young people to share their stories through short videos and articles.

I wonder a bit about the name "Immigrant Film Festival". Why did you choose to create a fully separate festival for immigrant voices, rather than trying to integrate the films into broader film festivals or programs? Could this labeling have a negative effect on the participants in any way?

Thanks for your time! Looking forward to hear from you.

Photo of Caitlin Katsiaficas

Hi Patricia--Thank you for your feedback and question!

I have heard of projects working with refugee communities in other countries but not in Dadaab--thank you so much for sharing; I will be sure to show this to the rest of the IFF team.

We created the Immigration Film Fest to highlight stories specifically related to migration, which is why this is mentioned in the name--we thought that screening films would be a powerful way to spark learning and discussion about this important topic. Each year, we issue a call for films, and also work to identify filmmakers ourselves and encourage them to apply (this year we received over 340 submissions!). The filmmakers that submit to our festival usually also submit their films to be shown elsewhere (i.e. festivals not focusing specifically on migration), and we have seen that they are proud to highlight that they have been selected for IFF as well as the other festivals, as this gives them an important example of support as well as publicity. You raise an important point, though, and I think it is important to have a two-pronged approach in our project if it is chosen: to support young filmmakers by showing their work at IFF and also making sure that we help find ways to show their films elsewhere, so as to have a wider impact, including in venues not focused on migration.

Photo of Patricia

Caitlin, Thanks for your quick and interesting response. Congratulations on your 340 submissions! That's incredible. I'm glad to hear you're interested in trying a multi-pronged approach in reaching broader audiences. If you ever feel like showing films here in Iraq, please let us know!

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