The emotionally charged national controversy over immigration takes an uncharacteristically calm position in the new documentary film debuting on Iowa Public Television this week, entitled Train to Nowhere: Inside an Immigrant Death Investigation.

The film investigates the horrific discovery that rocked Iowa and the nation in 2002 when authorities found eleven badly decomposed bodies sealed inside a freight car in rural Denison, Iowa. Who abandoned these Mexican and Central American undocumented immigrants in pursuit of a better life, leaving them to die a hellish death in a sweltering grain car? Train to Nowhere investigates that question, taking an in-depth look at the crime and at everyone it touched.

Train to Nowhere's tone is consistently nonjudgmental. Each player in the investigation is interviewed, and they all get a fair hearing: from the families of the deceased, to a key immigration agent, from a man charged in the case, to an FBI investigator. Each shares a unique point of view. And, as the stories unfold, so do the complexities of the issue of illegal immigration. But ultimately the viewer is left to grapple with that wider context: the push that drives the influx of migrants and the challenging push back they try to surmount.

No stone is left unturned in this crime investigation story. We trace the journey that brought the immigrants onboard the train and piece together what transpired next. Medical professionals reconstruct the ugly reality of death by dehydration and hyperthermia. The medical examiner recounts the process of identifying bodies, and we learn how they were returned. The fate of the perpetrators is revealed. The emotional aftermath of grief is palpable in the story of a brother whose frantic search encountered tragedy. The unlikely friendship he forges with the border patrol agent assigned to the case adds to the irony.

Production collaborators Paul Kakert and Colleen Bradford Kranz draw no conclusions and preach no political positions. And because of that, the general public --as well as educators of all kinds-- could find Train to Nowhere a useful resource as the nation addresses immigration reform. The extremely reasonably priced DVD may be purchased at the film's website. It also provides a free study guide download.

Nothing is as black and white in the immigration debate as it may seem, says the film. However, through Train to Nowhere's careful investigation and retelling of a tragic incident, it also shines a spotlight of clarity into some dark corners of our national immigration controversy. By introducing the players in this human drama, and by carefully helping us understand them, the film just might have the power to elicit critical thought and productive dialogue.

An appreciative audience of 150 at an advance screening in Davenport, Iowa yesterday interacted with Kakert and Krantz after viewing the film. Their discussion with viewers who reflected a variety of opinions on immigration opened up a dialogue that was fruitful and positive, participants said.

If it can accomplish that, then Train to Nowhere offers a journey of inquiry that is well worth climbing aboard. It airs on Iowa Public Television on Tuesday at 7 PM. It will appear next month at California's Paso Digital Film Festival.

This is a train worth catching.

The "Train to Nowhere: Inside an Immigrant Death Investigation" premiere Iowa broadcast on Iowa Public Television (PBS) includes showings at the following times/channels: Tuesday, October 12 at 7:00 PM, on IPTV; Wednesday, October 13 at 8:00 PM on IPTV World; and Friday, October 15 at 9:00 AM on IPTV World.

 

Filmmaker Paul Kakert

Paul Kakert has owned and operated a video and multimedia production company in Iowa since 1991 and has produced videos and 3D animations for broadcast, federal government, non-profit organizations, higher education, and corporate businesses throughou t the United States. Paul founded Storytellers International in 2009 as a non-profit organization to produce feature length documentary films, telling stories from around the world. As President and Director of all productions for the organization, his goal is to build an online, fanatic audience for documentary films through his community website DocumentaryTV.com. In addition to promoting the films he and other independent producers create, the organization actively solicits story ideas from a growing community at DocumentaryTV.com. Anyone can pitch a story they would like to see SI produce. Paul’s goal is to inspire the public to tell him what is important to them, and most importantly, to hear from those who are close to the stories and the people involved. To date, films by Storytellers have taken Paul to India and Kosovo and throughout the US to meet his vision of bringing a world of stories to a US audience.

Colleen Bradford Krantz graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in journalism. Colleen reported for the Washington Post, as well as for various other newspapers, while doing internships. After graduating, she reported for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's metro desk, covering everything from local government to police and courts. She then went to work for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, primarily covering local government, before eventually becoming a state desk reporter for The Des Moines Register. She has been honored on a national, state and local level for her work in journalism. Now an independent journalist, Colleen has written and co-produced her first documentary, “Train to Nowhere; Inside an Immigrant Death Investigation.” Her book of the same title is due out in spring 2011.