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‘Transendence’ brings movie magic to Belen

Johnny Depp is in Belen to shoot the sci-fi film “Transcendence.” Filming starts July 8. (The Associated Press)

Johnny Depp is in Belen to shoot the sci-fi film “Transcendence.” Filming starts July 8. (The Associated Press)

BELEN – Movie magic is in the air in downtown Belen.

Film crews with the action-packed science fiction movie “Transcendence” produced a miniature, abandoned city spanning the block of Becker Avenue and Second Street to Dailies Avenue and First Street.

Starring in the thriller, delving into the concepts of identity and morality during a period of artificial intelligence, are actors Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman.

Filming is scheduled to begin July 8. The Belen Police Department will shut down Reinken Avenue to Baca Avenue along Third and First streets for 10 days, beginning Friday. Movie crews will fill the streets with truckloads of sand to set the movie’s background, said Steve Tomita, the city’s spokesperson.

Facades of the fictitious buildings, constructed in empty lots and over existing buildings, paint the picture of an aging, abandoned town. The movie set has been under construction since mid-May.

With this movie joining the list of those filmed in Belen, it makes one wonder what attracts movie producers to the Hub City, said Theresa Padilla, co-owner of Pete’s Cafe.

“I think it’s because they can build on these two roads without causing a lot of havoc, and we are in downtown Belen,” Padilla said. “It’s a nice, wide street, where there’s not a whole lot of traffic and putting a lot of people out of business.”

Becker Street Pub owner Claudine Montaño said Depp is scheduled to shoot a scene inside her business. Although this is the fifth movie to use Montaño’s establishment, she’s hoping Depp will take a photograph with her to display on the pub’s back wall as Kevin Costner did during the filming of “Swing Vote.”

The parking lot of Pete’s Cafe will be turned into a used-car lot to match the movie set on either side of the building, Padilla said.

She said location managers have kept her well informed of what to expect while the movie set was built and once filming began.

“They’ve been very respectful, and we certainly appreciate that,” she said.

The Belen Goju Ryu Karate school is covered up with wood panels and painted to look old and ragged, said Richard Long, co-owner of the school. The school was previously transformed into feed stores for the filming of “Swing Vote” and “The Last Stand.”

Once the movie set is finished, the film’s set director will take karate students on a tour to experience movie magic, Cindy Long said.

“I take every class on a field trip … I want them to experience the movie magic, to see the fake buildings. It’s history,” Cindy said. “For a little town like Belen, that’s a lifetime memory.”

Padilla and her employees will look through the cafe’s windows and hang around the corner, waiting for a glimpse of the movie and its stars.

“I would be so thrilled if we could get any of those actors to come in,” she said. “It would be amazing, but we don’t want to count our chickens before they hatch.”

The Longs are hoping for the same thing. They sent a letter to Depp and Freeman through the film’s locations manager, asking for a photo opportunity with them.

“This is truly a memorable experience for all of us here at our school,” the Longs wrote.

“We would be so honored to meet you and we are so excited our karate school building will be in your movie.”

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