Holland filmmaker’s documentary highlights challenges of first-generation college students

For filmmaker Cynthia Martinez, access to college is an issue that hits close to home. It was during high school that she realized there could be more to life than the cycle of generational poverty she had experienced. 

“I would see college flags hanging inside the homes of my white affluent friends. I would sit at the dinner table where parents were having conversations with their kids about college. That was not happening in my home. It was all about survival.”

Education became Martinez’s way out of generational poverty. She sought out her high school guidance counselor and completed the application to be enrolled in TRIO Upward Bound, a federally funded program that helps level the playing field and creates access to higher education for first-generation college students. Hope College has one of the longest-running TRIO Upward Bound programs in the country, and that is the program Martinez participated in. 

“The memories of those summers on Hope College’s campus made me think, ‘Wow! If this is what college is like — sign me up!’ Yes, I can go to college. I can do this.”
Filmmaker Cynthia Martinez poses with Nayeli Mora, who stars in Martinez' documentary "First Voice Generation."
College and filmmaking

In fact, Martinez did just that. She attended Western Michigan University and went on to attend Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. It was there she became exposed to the wide world of filmmaking that, years later, she would explore for herself. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Martinez found out that TRIO Upward Bound students were facing challenges she never had to face. As she dove deeper into these challenges, she realized there was a story that needed to be told. 
Filming of the documentary film, "First Voice Generation."
“It was a totally new experience. I do know how to tell stories, but I never dreamed of making a film. I just knew I had a passion for bringing a light to issues people may not be aware of. I decided to just start, and I knew I would figure it out.”

Martinez’s documentary, “First Voice Generation,” follows three first-generation college students experiencing the ups and downs of the global pandemic as they make their way through the TRIO Upward Bound program. 
"First Voice Generation" promotional poster
Visible impact

The film’s impact has been made visible by winning the jury award for “Best Independent Feature Documentary” at the Central Michigan International Film Festival this past February. 

So what’s next for Martinez and this film?

“I’m hopeful we can continue being accepted into more film festivals. My biggest dream is for this film to be screened at the White House. As a federally funded program (TRIO Upward Bound), getting this film screened in front of lawmakers could help with continued funding.”

Martinez also hopes to get the film in front of distributors, as any money made from the film will go to create scholarship funding for students like those highlighted in the documentary. She also hopes to raise funds to bring the featured students to film festivals, colleges, and universities to participate in Q&As. 
The crew of the documentary film "First Voice Generation"
Positive reactions

Martinez says reactions to her film have been quite positive. “I’ve heard people say we’re providing an authentic depiction of the experience of first-generation Latino college students, and that this film inspires and relates to people on many levels.”

To learn more about the documentary, which is set to screen next at the Capital City Film Festival in Lansing at noon on April 15, visit links:


Instagram @firstvoicegeneration 
Facebook First Voice Generation
Cynthia Martinez speaks at a screening of her documentarty "First Voice Generation."
Inspired to donate? Visit the link below. The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holland serves as the fiduciary for the film. To donate, go to the website and please be sure to note that the proceeds are to benefit “First Voice Gen Film.” 

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Read more articles by Kelsey Sivertson.