HARLINGEN – Eva Hernandez De La Rosa, 73, had no idea there was a movie being filmed downtown on Jackson Street until yesterday morning.
“ I am very happy and excited,” the life-long Harlingen resident said, while watching the actors and crew members practice one of their scenes.
Suddenly, her luck changed.
The movie’s key production assistant, Joel Shrader, approached a few of the spectators, including Hernandez, and asked if they wanted to be extras in the scene, walking in the background.
“ I like to walk, and I am excited to be a part of the movie,” Hernandez said. “I know there will be more people with me.”
The movie, “Gift of an Angel,” which is still a working title according to its producer Tara Pirnia, is a Christmas movie starring Alyssa Milano that began filming in Harlingen November 6.
The scenes shot on Jackson Street started yesterday morning and continued into the afternoon. The movie will be filmed throughout the week until Saturday.
Sara Garcia, 34, a tarot reader, went downtown hoping to run into Milano and give her a reading. Garcia was also asked to be an extra.
“ Of course, I jumped to it. You gotta represent the Valley. Nobody really makes movies here, and it is really exciting for me,” Garcia said.
The film crew has shot in different areas around town, featuring locations like Jackson Street, the Municipal Court and the city’s downtown office.
The movie’s main theme centers around a family’s separation amid the ongoing immigration debate.
“ We have been filming for the past couple of weeks in Harlingen,” Pirnia said.
“ Today’s shot is from earlier in the movie, where one of our lead characters played by Christian De La Fuente is putting up Christmas lights, and it is where two of our main characters first meet each other,” she said.
Filming in Harlingen
Harlingen was chosen by the producers as the main location to film because of its American small town look. In a previous interview with the Valley Morning Star, Producer Andrew Sugarman said Harlingen looks like a town out of America’s heartland.
Pirnia agrees and said the hospitality they have received has been tremendous.
“ It’s been fantastic. The amount of welcome and warmth has been overwhelming. I have been in the business for over 20 years, and I have never experienced this level of acceptance and warmth, the best word I can use for it,” she said.
Pirnia said someone told her to check out Jackson Street at a dinner party.
“ They told us it would have the look that we wanted, and we called the City Commission and they were amazing. The mayor, Dan Serna, Ed Meza, Irma, all of them,” she said.
According to her, filming can take up to 12 hours on a regular day, with 40 crew members and 15 actors.
De La Fuente, who plays Carlos in the movie, said he was enjoying his time in the Valley.
“ It’s great. Finally, the weather is a little warmer. People are really nice, and it is great to be in a place where you are so welcome,” he said.
“ Everybody is happy that we are doing this project that takes place here, and we are showing a story that really took place here and is part of the reality we are living today,” he said.
Even though the movie is a Christmas tale, it talks about family separation and puts a spotlight on the situation many migrant families have to go through on a daily basis.
“ The reason we are doing this movie here is because stories like the one we are telling in the movie sadly happens. You see in real life a lot of parents are separated from their kids,” De La Fuente said.
“ We want to show everybody what is the suffering and the struggle behind a family that is being separated just because they didn’t have the right paperwork to be on the wrong side of an imaginary line. It is a story that I think needs to be told so people can really know what’s going on,” he said.
De La Fuente said he was very excited to be a part of the movies and being able to talk about issues like immigration inspired him to be a part of it.
“ You have an American boy or girl born here and their parents don’t have their immigration papers in order and then they are separated. Their son or daughter are put into the foster system and it is horrible,” he said. “Hopefully this story will touch people’s hearts and somebody will fight harder to change it. It is something that should not happen.”
Pirnia said the movie is still a Christmas movie even though it touches on sensitive subjects.
“ This movie is not your typical Christmas movie. It slightly graces on some issues going on in the country today but at the end of the day it’s a story about love and hope. Sometimes you lose someone and that door closes another one opens,” she said.
The movie will be released October 2020, according to Pirnia. It is an independent production between her and Sugerman.