Film festival to showcase ‘Little Hollywood’

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Where can you walk down the street and get a glimpse of stars such as Morgan Freeman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kevin Costner, Claire Daines or Forest Whitaker? In Hollywood, yes, but over the past several years, Belen has been the place where they all come to make their movies.

Where can you walk down the street and get a glimpse of stars such as Morgan Freeman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kevin Costner, Claire Daines or Forest Whitaker? In Hollywood, yes, but over the past several years, Belen has been the place where they all come to make their movies.

News-Bulletin file photo: The movie, ‘Transcendence,’ staring Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman, was filmed in downtown Belen. The film will be released in theaters next month.

Known lately as “Little Hollywood,” the Hub City has been the backdrop to several feature films, staring your favorite actors. To celebrate Belen’s new-found fame, city leaders decided to showcase what really goes on behind the scenes and in front of the camera with a film festival to coincide with the annual St. Patrick’s Day Balloon Rallye.

Steve Tomita, Belen’s planning and economic director, said the city has been wanting to put on a film festival for a number of years to help people understand why the city is the perfect place to shoot a movie or a television series.

“Belen needed to do something to recognize the movies that had been filmed here,” Tomita said. “We want people to understand what goes on down here — we’re pretty big time down here.

“At the same time, the council wanted us to take our existing festivals and make them bigger and better,” he said. “We have a lot of festivals and some don’t last all day, so we want people to stay here and shop and eat here.”

On the verge of losing the annual balloon rally, Tomita got into high gear and decided to team up with the Valencia Flying and Retrieval Society and pitched them the idea of coordinating the Belen Flight and Film Festival.

Saturday’s event will begin with dozens of hot air balloons filling the skies above Eagle Park on Saturday, March 15, and the film festival will commence at 11 a.m. on Second Street and Becker Avenue, where most of the movies have been filmed.

Tomita’s idea of a film festival is much more than your typical festival, where people simply screen movies or hear from the movie makers. While movies born in Belen will be shown at the library and at Harla May’s, the city decided to make the experience much more interactive.

“I wanted something different,” he said. “Since we have the movies filmed down here, I wanted to make an event where people can walk down Second Street and Becker (Avenue) and become embroiled in the movies, where people can walk where the stars walked, see where they built the sets and see how they took the area, evolved it into what you see on the screen.”

Tomita explained that while movie fans can go to different places in the state and see where they filmed certain movies or television series, but to be in one place, such as Downtown Belen, where several films were shot, it’s an experience that can’t be replicated. A lot of the sets or buildings used in other places are no longer there, but in Belen, many of the existing buildings were used as the movies’ backdrops.

“We still have the buildings they transformed, whether they put façades on them or not, we still have them,” he said. “We want people to come out and have a different experience than they normally would visiting other sets.”

The film festival will begin at 11 a.m., Saturday, and run until 8 p.m. Visitors will be able to visit the Belen Harvey House Museum, where they will be able to see a 20-minute video showing pictures, clips of the different movies made in the Hub City and a narrative of each movie.

“It doesn’t have all of the movies, but it has most of them, such as ‘As Cool As I Am,’ ‘Swing Vote,’ ‘The Last Stand,’ ‘Bunny O’Hare,’” he said. “We have two other 20-minute short films, ‘Milagros’ and ‘Freedom,’ from Cobalt Sky Productions, LLC by Kara Sachs, sister of resident Lorraine Sachs.

“‘Milagros’ is an international award-winning film,” Tomita said. “Kara will be at the festival and will be on hand after each film showing to answer any questions attendees may have.”

Movies, such as “The Last Stand,” “Swing Vote” and “Bunny O’Hare,” will be shown at the Belen Public Library, along with short clips and trailers of “Transcendence,” staring Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman, which will be released in theaters next month.

The walking tour will be held from Dalies to Castillo on Second Street and Becker Avenue from First to Third streets, which is where most of the movies were filmed.

“It’s really a walking, self-guided tour,” Tomita said. “We’ll have two, 10-foot marquees that are 2-foot by 10-feet long that have photographs of sets that were constructed and façades that were put up during street scenes that were shot. They won’t be all the movies, but we will have “Swing Vote,” “The Last Stand” and “Transcendence,” and a couple of shots from the other ones.”

The marquees will allow visitors to walk down the streets, see the buildings that are still standing and then seen the photos that depict the buildings that were transformed for the movies. It will also allow participants to envision looking at what they see now and place themselves in what the area became for the big screen.

Because “Transcendence” has not yet been released in theaters, a screening is not yet possible, but, the event organizers will also be raffling off one of the “Transcendence” balloon banners and one or two of the “Transcendence” posters that Alcon Entertainment, the movie’s marketing company, provided to the city. Alcon Entertainment also provided the city with five photos that will be featured on the marquees.

While the movies “Swing Vote” and “The Last Stand” were trying to portray small-town living, Tomita explained that “Transcendence” is portraying a community that was devastated, and the characters are returning for one last battle.

“It was a big production with howitzers, big battle scenes in the streets, blowing up vehicles,” he said of last-year’s production. “It was huge.”

Tomita said from his research, there have been 19 movies and television series shot in the Hub City since the 1970s. In the past several years, the movie industry has been a big benefit to Belen, bringing in hundreds of thousands to the local economy, which in turn, brings gross receipts taxes to the city.

“The movie industry is great for Belen,” Tomita said. “It brings attention to the city, and we’ve heard that we’re a great place to come to shoot a movie because we work with them. Actually, we work together because it benefits everyone.”

To continue the balloon rally and film festival’s celebration, the infamous “Breaking Bad” RV will also make a special appearance, both at the balloon rally and at the walking tour on Becker Street. Tomita said people will be able to take pictures in front of the van, which the show’s characters, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman used to begin their meth-making empire.

Along with food and craft vendors, hot air balloon pilots will set up their gondolas along Becker Saturday night for a “flare up.” There will also be T-shirts, posters and a special balloon pin for sale, which Tomita said he expects to be a collector’s item since it’s the first of its kind because of the uniqueness of the two events.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.