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‘Sun Belt Express’ uses New Mexico as the Sonoran Desert

From left, Tate Donovan, India Ennenga, director Evan Buxbaum and Rachael Harris talk during a break from filming “Sun Belt Express” in Belen. (Courtesy of Heriberto Ibarra)

From left, Tate Donovan, India Ennenga, director Evan Buxbaum and Rachael Harris talk during a break from filming “Sun Belt Express” in Belen. (Courtesy of Heriberto Ibarra)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Inspiration come from various places.

For Evan Buxbaum, inspiration for his latest project came to him while he was working as a bartender after college.

“I actually wrote the script to the film with the barback (assistant),” he admits. “We were working together for a while and were both interested in immigration issues and started working on the project.”

The script was made into a short film, “La Linea,” a couple years ago.

Late last year, Buxbaum and his writing partners – Gregorio Castro and Chance Mullen – expanded the script in hopes of making a feature-length film. With a final script in tow, the trio began scouting New Mexico for “Sun Belt Express.”

The film is set south of Tucson in the Sonoran Desert and follows Allen King, played by Tate Donovan, who is an offbeat ethics professor who ends up on a disastrous – and hilarious – run across the Mexican border with his conservative teenage daughter Emily, played by India Ennenga, and four illegal immigrants in the trunk.

“The idea is to tell a humanizing story through humor,” Buxbaum explains. “It’s also an interesting opportunity to explore immigration and all of its issues.”

For nearly a month, crews filmed on location in Belen, Los Lunas, Socorro and Albuquerque.

The home base for the production was at the La Mirada RV Park, which was transformed into a restaurant and hotel all set in Tucson.

The production employed about 30 New Mexicans for its crew, as well as 24 New Mexicans as principals and background actors.

Buxbaum says when he began scouting, he knew the production had to come to New Mexico. In fact, Buxbaum actually spent more than two months in the Land of Enchantment getting ready for the film.

“The landscape is absolutely breathtaking,” he says. “We were able to get all of our desert scenes shot here. It’s been a little hot and windy but we can deal with that.”

Buxbaum says with a small budget for the film, the tax incentive program that the state offers cemented his decision to come here.

“It’s been a combination of the tax incentives, the number of capable crew members and the location to Los Angeles,” he says. “All of those factored into the decision and we are reaping the benefits. Production has run smoothly and we’ve found that the community is very film-friendly. We had people out in Los Lunas giving us access to film their livestock for certain scenes. These people came to us because they wanted to help. You couldn’t get that help anywhere else.”

Noah Lang, a producer on the film, agrees with Buxbaum about the friendliness of New Mexicans.

“There has been an overwhelming support for the film,” he says. “Everyone that we’ve run into has been amazing. They’ve also treated our actors really great.”

Lang says being able to film entirely in New Mexico was a bonus because the production got to stay in one spot.

Crew members film a desert scene for the film “Sun Belt Express” in Belen. The production recently wrapped filming in New Mexico. (Courtesy of Heriberto Ibarra)

Crew members film a desert scene for the film “Sun Belt Express” in Belen. The production recently wrapped filming in New Mexico. (Courtesy of Heriberto Ibarra)

“The locations can double for a lot of different places,” he says. “We could shoot a desert scene one day, and the next we’d be shooting in the middle of a neighborhood. It’s been a great film to be involved in and I can’t wait to bring more of my productions out here.”

“Sun Belt Express” marks the directorial debut for Buxbaum. For his first film, he was taken aback by the caliber of cast that signed on and calls himself “lucky.”

In addition to Donovan and Ennenga, the cast includes Stephen Lang, Rachael Harris, Ana de la Reguera and Miguel Sandoval.

Harris is known for her roles in the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series and “The Hangover.” De la Reguera was in “Cowboys & Aliens” and “Nacho Libre.”

“When I’ve talked about the cast, people have asked me if it was all for the same movie,” he says. “I feel like there’s been some luck on our side in accomplishing this. Luck and a lot of hard work.”

Buxbaum would like to see the film go onto the festival circuit and hopefully find a home.

“Since a third of the film is in Spanish, we’re looking at hitting a lot of different markets,” he says. “We’d love to team up with HBO Latino with this project. When the production wraps, we’ll begin the journey in getting the film seen.”

SEND ME YOUR TIPS: If you know of a movie filming in the state, or are curious about one, email film@ABQjournal.com. Follow me on Twitter @agomezART.

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