LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Mexican film director Patricia Riggen faced so many challenges making her new film, "Under The Same Moon," that she almost gave up, but it is good for audiences and for Riggen that she persevered.
The Spanish-language film, which debuted in major U.S. cities this week and will play around the country in days ahead, puts a human face on illegal immigration. Yet, Riggen hopes audiences will see beyond political issues and be touched by the tale of a mother and son who long to reunite.
Using its Spanish title, "La Misma Luna" ("The Same Moon"), the movie earned a standing ovation at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and became a darling of that year's event -- the top gathering for independent film in the United States.
Fox Searchlight, the art-house distributor behind such hits as "Juno," quickly snapped it up for theaters. It all seemed like a dream, Riggen said, but getting there was no easy task.
"It was my first full-length feature. We had no money, no time, and people told me I was crazy to even try" to make the movie, Riggen told Reuters.
"Under the Same Moon" tells of a Mexican mother, Rosario, working illegally as a domestic laborer in Los Angeles while her son Carlos is left behind in Mexico.
After years apart, the 9-year-old boy decides to risk everything and cross the border in search of his mother. What ensues is a tale of the extreme measures immigrants will take to come to the United States and the harrowing trip they face.
Riggen insists that she never set out to push political buttons when starting work on the movie three years ago by developing the script with writer Ligiah Villalobos.
"Immigration wasn't a big topic," she said. "In fact, it was considered a bad subject as people didn't want to watch movies about it. But I went ahead because I never thought of this film in those terms."
Riggen said she saw the film as a love story between a mother and child.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the local theater multiplex. Immigration became a divisive issue in the United States, making the film not just a heartfelt story but also relevant to current times.
Riggen said it was "fortunate" that she didn't try to make a political film. "It's easier to understand -- and more powerful and effective -- when you see things from the human side," she said.
The director cast Adrian Alonso, now 13 years old and an accomplished child actor whose credits include "The Legend of Zorro," to play the son because he's "not the pretty boy type ... but he becomes beautiful because he's loving and smart."
The mother is played by well-known Mexican actress Kate del Castillo ("Bordertown"), a glamorous star in Mexico but a servant in Riggen's film. "Ugly Betty" actress America Ferrera plays a student who smuggles the boy across the border.
Riggen shot the movie on a paltry budget of less than $2 million, and she also had to win respect from the crew as a first-time director.
"No one believed I could do it," she said. But she was able to push her cinematographer, Checco Varese, who also happened to be her husband. "He had to do what I told him," she laughed.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Mohammad Zargham