Hollywood in Harlingen: Movie on migrant debate filming here

HARLINGEN — Adrieanna Aparicio was stunned to find out a Hollywood film crew is shooting a movie in town.

“Oh, wow!” Aparicio, a retail saleswoman, said yesterday at Valle Vista Mall. “It’s amazing they’re filming in Harlingen. It’s cool.”

On Wednesday, the crew began filming the movie “Gift of an Angel” along the city’s streets.

The film stars actress Alyssa Milano. For her, the movie — whose theme centers around a family’s separation amid the raging immigration debate — carries a message she wants to share.

“Now, Hollywood is talking about us,” Crysthal Diaz, a retail saleswoman and waitress, said as she walked into the mall. “It’s weird to us because we never get their attention unless it’s immigration or politics — unless it’s about the border wall.”

For about three weeks, the crew plans to film around town, with locations like Jackson Street, the Municipal Court and the city’s downtown office.

“The majority of the movie is being filmed in Harlingen,” City Manager Dan Serna said.

Candie Zavala believes the producers picked the right location to send their message.

“I think the producers made an excellent choice in picking Harlingen as one of their filming sites,” Zavala, who runs a business, stated in a Facebook message.

“As a city, we offer a genuine look into the issues which the film is addressing. As a city so close to the border, many of us in the community face the constant fear of loosing family members due to the strict enforcement of our immigration laws. Some of us are also regularly reminded of this fear as we may have to drive by any one of the several facilities where undocumented immigrants are being held throughout the Valley.”

Picking the right location

Producers scoured the Rio Grande Valley, the national focus of the raging immigration debate, for the right location.

“We did three very intensive scouts throughout the area,” Producer Tara Pirnia said Wednesday at the crew’s make-shift headquarters near Grimes and 13th Street. “It had the look we wanted for the film,”

About 10 miles north of the Mexican border, Harlingen looks like a town out of America’s heartland, Producer Andrew Sugarman said.

“It’s one of these examples of a middle-American town,” he said. “There are not too many of them left. It’s representative of the heartland of America the way I remember it.”

City’s agreement

Earlier this week, city commissioners gave Pirnia a $5,000 grant as part of a contract in which the producers agreed to list the city as the film’s location in promotional material as well as in the movie’s closing credits.

“Filming a movie here is a lot of marketing,” Serna said. “The credits are going to be there forever. This might lead to other opportunities.”

Migrant corridor

The issue of family separation amid the immigration debate drove the producers to migrants’ main corridor into the United States.

“We show a little of the immigration thing that’s happening — families being separated,” Pirnia said. “It’s happening right here. We just wanted to put a face on something that’s happening in the news and get people aware.”

The movie stars Milano as a social worker who cares for a little girl after immigration officials separate her from her mother, an undocumented immigrant played by Eva Ariel Binder.

“With the current immigration issue that is dividing our country, I wanted to tell a story that shows its impact on a single family,” Director Amanda Raymond said. “By being up close and personal, it reveals the real struggles these people are being forced to endure and humanizes the situation.”

Actors’ passion

The production features many local residents such as McAllen actor Michael Karam.

And many of the film’s cast and crew feel strongly about the film’s message.

Milano has become an outspoken critic of the Trump administration’s immigration policies while advocating for better treatment, case handling and adequate legal representation for detainees.

“This really became a passion-project for Alyssa,” Pirnia said, adding Milano serves as one of the film’s executive producers.

The independent feature film is being produced by Pirnia’s Future Sight Entertainment and Sugerman’s Pantheon Entertainment Banners in association with Raymond’s 13 Curves Productions.

Sugarman said the film is expected to be released in about a year.