Movie depicts Richmond pastor's path out of heroin addiction, gang life

  • By LAURA KEBEDE Richmond Times-Dispatch
  Victor is more than a name. It’s a statement of character in the life of Richmond Pastor Victor Torres, who is the subject of a new movie “Victor” being shown at The Byrd Theatre tonight.
  Torres and his wife, Carmen, began housing youth caught up in various addictions soon after they moved to Richmond in 1971 in their 20s. He had been a heroin addict himself and was on probation after stabbing a rival gang member in Brooklyn, N.Y.
  But after entering a youth program led by evangelist David Wilkerson, best known for his book “The Cross and the Switchblade,” Torres’ life changed for the better.
  New Life for Youth, the program begun by Torres and his wife and based in South Richmond, has helped an estimated 20,000 youths since 1971.
  The movie based on his 1977 autobiography “Son of Evil Street,” will have its Richmond premiere at 7 p.m. at The Byrd Theatre, 2908 W. Cary St. A discussion of the movie will follow and a song selection from a youth choir connected with Torres’ organization.
  Several of the crew and actors, including the lead actor Patrick Davis and Lisa Vidal, who plays his mother, will be in attendance along with Torres and some family members. Richmond officials including Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham, Henrico County Chief of Police Douglas A. Middleton, Richmond City Council members Michelle R. Mosby and Reva M. Trammell will attend, said the movie’s associate producer Rosalinda Rivera.
  Filmmakers hope to show the movie in jails across the country as a message of hope to those in similar situations. “Victor” will be shown in Chesterfield and Richmond jails this week, Rivera said.
  The movie was filmed in 20th Century Fox Studios in Hollywood and made on a $2 million budget — pennies compared to most movies filmed there.
  Rivera, who is also Torres’ daughter and co-executive director of New Life for Youth, said after they heard the movie’s message of hope for addicts, many crew members offered their services for half price, though none of the actors were volunteers, she said.
  “People lined up to give their services,” Rivera said, adding that many cited losing friends to heroin addiction as their reason. “That’s the only way we were able to do this movie with that budget.”
  In Virginia, deaths from heroin and opioid use surpassed traffic fatalities for the first time in 2014, totaling 728.
  The movie’s producer, Greg Wilkerson, is the son of David Wilkerson, whose program Torres entered in Brooklyn. The movie was chosen out of more than 1,500 entries to debut at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis.
  The youth program provides counseling and vocational training through a 12- to 18-month residential program including the New Life Ranch in Beaverdam, the New Life Thrift Store and New Life Wash-N-Roll Car Wash on Turner Road and Furniture for Change in Chesterfield Towne Center.
  Torres and his wife also started a church New Life Outreach International as an outflow of the youth program, now on Turner Road. The multiethnic church has since opened other locations including Fredericksburg, Alabama, Ghana, Peru, and Brazil.
  Rivera, a Monocan High School graduate, said she and her three siblings didn’t always understand their parent’s ministry when they were young.
  “But we knew after they encountered this love and encouragement, we saw their lives turn around,” she said. “We grew up right around the table eating with them.”
  “We want people to make better decisions before their families are destroyed by it,” Rivera said. “We can all become Victors.”

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