To Mercer County Community College student Jorge Torres, an advanced film production class last semester was more than just a credit toward graduation.
Rather, Torres views the skills he gained as a digital film major as tools for accomplishing his mission of spreading awareness about the plight of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The passion that Torres has invested in his education thus far has certainly been noticed, ultimately landing his final project, a 20-minute documentary titled “Undocumented,” in film screenings across the country, most recently in the New England Festival of Ibero American Cinema at Yale University.
Torres, a native of Quito, Ecuador, experienced the struggles faced by millions of undocumented immigrants first-hand when he moved to the United States in 2002, at the age of 17.
“It puts a big stone in your life,” said Torres, now 27, who was undocumented for seven years after overstaying his visa. “It was very frustrating growing up in a country that is probably not appreciating you, but on the other side it was shaping my ideology of fighting for social justice for undocumented immigrants.”
Today, Torres lives in Lawrenceville, and he studies film at MCCC, pioneers the branch of Unidad Latina en Acción he launched in New Jersey, and works for his own production company, R.Evolution Productions, producing films for nonprofit organizations nation-wide.
“Because I was a community organizer, I was always looking for a way of getting a message across to more people and broaden perspective,” Torres said. “I decided that video and media were needed to get my message across and to reach more communities, to reach everyone in the world. So I decided I was going to learn to do this.”
However, Torres was no stranger to the world of media before enrolling at MCCC. Torres volunteered at the radio station WPKN 89.5 FM, running a segment with friends in Bridgeport, Conn., where he first moved with his parents and younger brother from Ecuador about a decade ago. He was soon hired to work for Radio Cumbre, a Spanish station. When Torres moved to New Jersey after marrying Ana Pazmino, a Mercer County resident, he continued to hone his radio skills by working in a couple of shows at MCCC.
“[Media] was something I was doing professionally, as well as learning in college,” Torres said.
Torres has channeled these skills into R.Evolution Productions, which has been hired to produce short films for community organizations in New Jersey, and as far as the National Day Laborer Organizing Network in California.
“The idea was to start doing videos and short pieces for community organizations,” said Torres, who added that a second objective is to provide work for members of the community.
With his compassion for the people around him, Torres’ activism revolves entirely around the members of his community, whether Mercer County residents or undocumented immigrants across the country.
Unidad Latina en Acción, a grassroots immigrant organization founded in New Haven, Conn., strives to build a multi-ethnic movement for worker justice and against police brutality. When Torres moved from New Haven to Lawrenceville four years ago, he decided to bring his passion with him, opening a new sector of the organization in Highstown.
“We decided to found this branch in Hightstown because we saw a lot of Latino community groups that were apart, and wanted to be united,” Torres said. “When you want to fight for social justice you should be united.”
The goal of the organization, which doesn’t follow particular politicians or cater to a particular race, is to empower members of a community through education.
“We are an organization that anyone can be a part of,” said Torres. “We fight for immigrant rights and ways. We fight racism.”
Last spring ULA sponsored Hightstown’s first May Day, a town-wide march for workers’ rights. Additionally, the organization actively supports national calls for immigration reform, and the Dream Act. The nonprofit, community-based organization currently has nine active members, and around 30 other part-time members.
Torres said he had always dreamt of bringing his media skills to his work in immigrant activism, and advanced film production, a class taught by Professor of Film and Television Barry Levy last spring at MCCC, provided the perfect opportunity to unite his passions.
“It is a capstone course that each film student is required to take in his final year, and consists of a semester-long project, either a short film or documentary, for which the students conceptualize, produce, shoot and edit,” Levy said.
According to Levy, Torres’s work began in January of last year and ended in mid-May, where his documentary was first screened in a school-wide festival.
“It was really nice, but intense,” Torres said about his experience in the course. “I was working around 12-hour days, sometimes more. But I learned that if you like it, you don’t feel it.”
The final product of Torres’ four months of work was “Undocumented,” a documentary that follows the life of Lucy, an undocumented immigrant who opened her heart to the cameras in order to speak out about the injustices facing millions of undocumented people across the country.
“The system is not seeing you as a human being, just because you don’t have a simple document,” Torres said. “It is very broken, unsustainable and unfair.”
It seems that this fervor has moved some of the roughly 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to the point of speaking out, despite the consequences of revealing their undocumented status.
“It is hard to believe that she would say, ‘Yes, I want to say to the whole world that I’m undocumented,’” Torres said. “She’s telling me that she’s undocumented, and she’s not scared.”
Torres has certainly accomplished his goal of broadening perspective, not only winning Honorable Mention in the documentary category of the NEFIAC last fall “for its energetic presentation of voices that should be heard,” but also reaching screenings in Dayton, New Jersey, New York and California.
“There is a technical aspect and a human aspect and a story-telling aspect,” Levy said. “So much of what we do in film consists of dealing with people, and Torres has understood that. He is very passionate about working with people and helping them.”
Although unsure if he will continue to tell the story of the immigrants filmed in his first documentary, Torres plans to continue to use his media skills to spread awareness of immigration issues in the U.S.
“I think the goal is to find the social conscience in the viewer, to find the humanity in the viewer,” Torres said. “These people are human beings. I think that’s the goal: just to feel a little that she is a human being.”