Filmmaker Ramon Hamilton is on a mission to change how Americans think about immigration.
Despite its "microbudget", Hamilton's most recent film "Smuggled" took home five awards at film festivals around the world last year, including Best Dramatic Feature at the 2012 Mexico International Film Festival.
The 80-minute movie, which attempts to answer the question of "why immigrants cross the border," tells the story of a 9-year old boy and his mother who are smuggled in the bottom of a bus into the United States in persuit of a better life. The film, which was written, directed and cut by Hamilton himself, had a crew of 10 people, including actors and post-production specialists. "Smuggled" is also unique because almost the entire film is in Spanish, with subtitles, and almost the entire production team is Latino, something Hamilton says is not all that common.
"That's still very rare in the film industry, especially in feature film production, even out here in Los Angeles," Hamilton said.
A Boston-native whose mother is from the Dominican Republic, Hamilton hopes he can bring a human face to the immigration debate with the movie.
"In the United States we always have an 'us' vs. 'them' conversation about immigration, when really it should just be an 'us' conversation," he said. "A big part of my family has been the "them" in the equation. My aunt would come here every summer from the Dominican Republic to work as a maid."
In fact, large segments of the film, including the evident affection of the mother-son relationship, are inspired directly from Hamilton's own life. The idea to place his protagonists in a bus came from one of Hamilton's former employees at a construction company he once owned, who also came to the United States without papers, standing up for more than 24 hours in a hidden compartment of a bus.
"Smuggled" is Hamilton's second and most successful independent feature film. He is currently working on a new project called "Seekers" which takes aim at the way which the immigration laws break up families in the U.S.
Last week, the movie became available target="external"for digital download online and will be available for purchase on DVD format in mid-April.
"I hope the film will help people understand why immigrants come here. There's such a misconception that people are coming here so they can mooch off the system, or something like that," Hamilton said. "But I hope this can show all the awful things people go through to get here and have the opportunities we take for granted everyday."