This weekend The Exodus Institute in partnership with the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society will host Pursuing the Dream: Refugees and Migrant Film Festival. The festival presents screenings and discussions throughout the weekend at the Film Center and the Capawock Theatre, including an event with Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple and her latest film, New Homeland.

Films, however, are only a part of The Exodus Institute’s mission. Executive director Anita Botti feels the mission has three parts.

“Educate, advocate and facilitate,” she said. “In order to facilitate and educate, we want to show the centrality of immigration to America. It is the fabric of our country and it always has been, and that centrality was the genesis of the whole idea for the Exodus Institute.”

The Exodus Institute is named after the Exodus, a steamer re-purposed in 1947 to bring stateless Jewish refugees to safety. The Exodus Institute is also a Vineyard story.

Years ago, after a ceremony at the Film Center honoring actress Sharon Stone, Sam Feldman and Al Trenk discussed with Ms. Stone their immigrant roots. The group felt compelled to act and Mr. Trenk and Ms. Stone became founding members of the Exodus Institute, along with Mr. Feldman.

“The Exodus Institute came together from total serendipity,” Mr. Feldman said.

“My father and the Baltimore Jewish community were responsible for the Exodus,” he added. “And I never forgot about it.”

When Mr. Feldman met Ms. Botti at a friend’s house on the Vineyard, he knew she was essential to the future of the institute. Ms. Botti served as chief of staff in the Secretary of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues from 2009 to 2014.

“We got talking about Anita’s background in the State Department, and with refugee resettlement around the world,” Mr. Feldman said.

Ms. Botti has been essential in lining up panelists for the festival, including Mimi Tsankov, an immigration court judge in New York city and officer at the National Association of Immigration Judges.

On Friday, following the screening of Midnight Traveler, Ms. Tsankov will take part in a conversation with Wendy Young, president of Kids In Need of Defense, and Robert Carey, former vice president for resettlement at the International Rescue Committee. Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Adrees Latif will participate in the conversation via Skype.

The melding of art and law is not new for Ms. Tsankov. “I’ve done a lot of work with artists, because artists lead the way,” she said. “Artists ask questions and create forums, which is what we need when considering immigration today.” Interacting with documentary films is not new to panelist Esther Olavarria, either. Ms. Olavarria emigrated from Cuba at the age of five and later became deputy assistant secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security.

“I’ve always been interested in documentary and that interest grew when I became the subject of one,” she said.

Ms. Olavarria’s story was featured in HBO’s documentary series How Democracy Works Now. She will take part in the festival’s final panel, discussing future policy implications. The panel is moderated by former national editor and White House correspondent for the Washington Post and current president of Freedom House, Michael Abramowitz.

Melanne Verveer, executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, will appear alongside Ms. Olavarria and Mr. Abramowitz. Ms Verveer also served as the first U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, nominated by President Obama in 2009.

“In telling stories, the arts can relay complex issues, things that aren’t readily understandable or easy to pin down,” Ms. Verveer said.

But creating a film festival on the Vineyard is not easy. Support from local businesses, many immigrant owned and operated, have been much appreciated, the organizers said. Vineyard Grocer and Bite on the Go are a few of the groups providing food and funds.

For Ms. Botti, the support is no coincidence.

“It’s appropriate and important that we are doing our first film festival here,” she said. “There’s a whole history of immigrants here, and so much happening every day. We felt we had to start here.”

For tickets and a full schedule of films, visit