The 23rd Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival opened Wednesday evening at the Grange Hall with a very personal film, telling the story of the 49 Venezuelan migrants who unexpectedly landed on Martha’s Vineyard in September.

The short film Waiting to Continue: The Venezuelan Asylum Seekers on Martha’s Vineyard screened to a sold out audience, a majority of whom had played essential roles in making sure the Venezuelan’s were housed, fed and given legal representation.

Four of the asylum seekers who have returned to the Island ­— Eliud, Daisy, Daniel and German — were guests of honor at the screening,

The film is a collaboration between Tim Persinko, Circuit Films director Ollie Becker, filmmaker Tom Ellis and editor Lori McCarthy.

Mr. Persinko, who was immediately on the scene at St. Andrew’s Church where the Venezuelans were housed, said his wife, immigration attorney Corey Lazar, immediately leapt into action to ensure they would not be deported.

“Corey was doing the heavy work,” Mr. Persinko said. “I brought a camera.”

Every seat - and couch - was filled on opening night at the Grange Hall — Maria Thibodeau

It was the service he could bring to the situation, he said with a smile from the stage on Wednesday. Long before he became a filmmaker with the Island nonprofit Circuit Arts, Mr. Persinko started his career in journalism. Those instincts, he said, carried him through the next 48 hours.

“I just knew there was a story,” he said.

The film follows the 48 hours the asylum seekers spent on the Island after being flown from Texas in a political move by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and the Island community’s efforts to pull together resources before they were transferred to Joint Base Cape Cod.

Ms. Lazar’s legal perspective features prominently in the film, as do the voices of business owner Larkin Stallings, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services clinic coordinator Geany Rolanti, and the migrants themselves, all of whom had traveled by foot across many countries only to end up being tricked and sent on a chartered plane to the Vineayrd.

“Getting the refugee perspective was key,” Mr. Becker said at the screening Wednesday evening. “We weren’t going to make the ‘Let’s pat ourselves on the back,’ film.”

Amid a surge of national media attention, Mr. Becker felt it was especially important to share the story from a local perspective.

Fillmakers Ollie Becker, Tom Ellis, and Tim Persinko — Maria Thibodeau

“I wanted to get the Vineyard’s story out there, so people don’t just remember it as hot takes from the news,” he said.

Using their deep-rooted knowledge of the Island community, Mr. Becker and Mr. Ellis were able to gain access to spaces that had stayed closed to national press and used that access to share intimate stories of the asylum seekers’ experiences.

In one portion, the film used cell phone footage from one of the migrants to show the perilous journey walking through dense rainforests in search of asylum. Ubaldo, an asylum seeker who had returned to the Island this fall before finding more stable housing outside of Boston, shared the lengths many asylum seekers had gone through to escape the oppressive conditions in Venezuela.

“We wanted to do anything to humanize the discussion of immigration a little more,” Mr. Ellis said. “It’s very easy to talk about it abstractly, but it hits harder when you put a face to it.”

When the film ended, Circuit Arts executive director Brian Ditchfield invited Eliud to the stage to share his thoughts.

“It touched me deeply because I lived it,” Eliud told the audience through a translator. “All the memories came back.”

A short discussion follwed the screening and then everyone took part in a group dinner with Venezuelan catering on the first floor of the Grange Hall.

The film festival continues through Sunday evening, with screenings at the Grange Hall, First Congregational Church of West Tisbury and the Capawock Theatre in Vineyard Haven. Visit