Andrew Cline

Andy Cline and Shannon Cay at the Carbon Trace Productions office talking about their documentary projects

Springfield is home to a unique business hard to find anywhere else: a nonprofit production studio. In just a week or so, this studio will be screening a documentary in New York City for the first time. 

Carbon Trace Productions is led primarily by both its founder, Missouri State University media, journalism, and film professor Andrew Cline, as well as executive director Shannon Cay. While the group has filmed several documentaries in the past, all with collaboration from MSU students, this will be the first documentary released since officially becoming a nonprofit organization. This will be their first distributed film. 

Cline calls the documentary, “Witness at Tornillo,” something that fell into Carbon Trace’s lap. 

“We weren’t actually expecting to start producing anything,” Cline said. 

What initially was a road trip to protest in El Paso, Texas, and get some footage, developed into meeting Josh Rubin, a friend of a friend from Brooklyn who came down to protest. “Witness in Tornillo” documents Rubin’s efforts with the Tornillo detention facility, which eventually was shut down. 

Cay is a producer on the film “Witness at Tornillo.” At Tornillo, Cay said, many iconic photos of the Tornillo movement were taken of Rubin. 

“Josh standing out there with a freedom sign was picked up by the Washington Post, it was picked up by the New York Times, it was picked up by lots of media outlets,” Cay said. “That’s kind of where the steam really started.” 

When unrelated protests in El Paso had finished, everyone had dispersed back to their cities and gone on with their lives. Except for Rubin, who came back to continue protesting Tornillo. 

Initially, it was just a man from Brooklyn protesting a detention facility in Texas. Now, the Facebook page for the group “Witness: Tornillo. Target: Homestead” has over 13,000 members. 

Carbon Trace Production’s feature-length film “Witness at Tornillo” follows Rubin’s story and the growth of the Witness movement. 

Carbon Trace Productions doesn’t always know where their next project will come from. Cline said generally ideas are brought to them in the form of student projects, requests, or situations like Tornillo where they were at the right place at the right time and had the experience to recognize a story was forming. 

Cline said he always has a camera on him and documenting things is second-nature, but it’s also his experience as a journalist that let him see when they’d have a documentary or just some footage. 

The moment Rubin came back from leaving, he knew this would develop into a Carbon Trace’s project. 

This will be the production’s first project to be distributed. Cay said they’re hoping for 

around 20 different showings and that this is another piece in expanding the scale. 

“We’re really trying to grow into an empire here locally,” Cay said. “We’ve lost far too many people to LA and New York, great talented people that we could have here in the Midwest if we just had a place for them to work, and I think this is a really great opportunity to start building up. Right here in the midwest.” 

One of Carbon Trace Production’s main efforts lies in collaboration with MSU students, both with pitching ideas and in creating the films. While they’re building a reputation as a professional, nonprofit Midwest film production, much of their staff is student volunteers, and they’re always looking for more proactive students to join, Cline said. 

“We want students to come in and learn,” Cline said. “You can’t teach initiative.”