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John Lamb, Published March 05 2014

Fargo Film Festival: Health, immigration topics of film fest luncheon

FARGO – The Fargo Film Festival may be a fun event, but some of the topics are no laughing matter. With films tackling topics from life to death, war and peace, the films offer much to talk over.

Health care and the immigrant experience was the topic at the festival’s first panel discussion held Wednesday afternoon.

Director/producer Chris Newberry and editor/composer Bill Kersey discussed their movie “American Heart” with a panel that included a doctor and two representatives from Lutheran Social Services, a nonprofit group which helps refugees adjust to life in America.

“American Heart” follows a handful of immigrants over seven years as they interact with doctors and staff at the HealthPartners Center for International Health in St. Paul.

“It’s about finding the humanity in healthcare, which can be a dehumanizing experience, and using healthcare as a window into the refugee experience,” Newberry explained.

The movie, which premiered in Minneapolis last spring and aired on Minnesota public TV, was screened Tuesday night. The film earned an honorable mention for feature documentary.

“In many ways it’s been an emotional journey for me and a great learning experience,” Newberry said.

Dr. Napoleon Espejo, of Family HealthCare Center in Fargo, said he saw similarities in the movie to what he does, often as one of the first people a refugee meets.

“We have to take time to orient them to the health care system in America,” he said.

He said differences exist, not only in language, but even issues of time and meeting scheduled appointments.

“We have to meet their cultural needs, not my cultural needs,” said Espejo, a native of Peru.

He said that many refugees come from communities populated by extended family. But here, relatives could live hours away.

“When you live here, you can be so isolated. Back home they lived next door,” he said.

“That relationship building is an important component in successful outcomes,” said Laetitia Mizero, director of Lutheran Social Services’ New American Services.

A refugee from Burundi, she arrived in 1998 and Espejo was one of the first people she met. She said he made her feel comfortable.

A comfort level had to be reached between Newberry and the people he follows in the movie, all of which had to sign agreements before filming began.

“In this case it was pretty remarkable to work with people very open. There were some very private moments you’d expect behind closed doors and here they are on screen,” Newberry said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533

If you go

What: Fargo Film Festival

When: Today through Saturday. Screenings start at 9:30 a.m. and continue all day with a noon break for lunch and again from 5 to 7 p.m. before the evening screenings

Where: The Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway

Info: Single session tickets are $6 for mornings and afternoons, $8 for evenings and $5 for students. Passes to parties and films range from $15 to $125. (701) 239-8385.

Today’s highlights

7:10 p.m. - “Sweet Crude Man Camp,” followed by Q & A with Isaac Gale

7:30 p.m. - “White Earth,” honorable mention in Student Film, followed by Q & A with J. Christian Jensen

8:05 p.m. – “My Sister Sarah,” followed by Q & A with Elizabeth Chatelain