Fort Worth's Chris Zuhdi juggled plenty of roles behind and in front of the camera. Indie Rights

Movies

How a Texas Indie Thriller Navigated Production Before and During the Pandemic

Fort Worth filmmaker Chris Zuhdi had to adapt to the changing circumstances while shooting Mexican Moon last year in Hamilton County.

There’s an early sequence in Chris Zuhdi’s sophomore feature, Mexican Moon, that feels like it’s from a time capsule, and not just because it’s set in 1980.

The Fort Worth filmmaker shot a crowded bar scene in the small Hamilton County city of Hico just days before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everybody’s at tables — fellowshipping, dancing, drinking beer,” Zuhdi said. “It feels like life used to be a year and a half ago.”

By the time Zuhdi and his collaborators returned to the town 80 miles southwest of Fort Worth more than three months later to resume production, it was like a different world.

“I was planning on shooting with a skeleton crew anyway, with no more than a couple of cast members at any particular time. I intentionally wrote a simple story with not a lot of moving parts,” he said. “The film gets very stark. There’s a lot of single shots of characters. The town looks post-apocalyptic with the streets empty.”

Zuhdi’s completed film, which begins streaming this week on Amazon Prime, is the second installment of his planned “crime fiction Texas noir trilogy,” following his 2017 debut Goodnight, Charlene, which was filmed mostly in Fort Worth.

He also stars in the film as a Vietnam veteran who loses his job at a garage, then winds up in a confrontation over stolen money with drug cartels who have infiltrated his small town.

“He’s basically being turned down at being a regular guy, so he finally has to do the only thing he knows how to do, which in this case is fight,” said Zuhdi, who co-wrote the story with his father, Omar, an Egyptologist and history professor.

The Oklahoma native said he’s enamored with making movies in Texas for primarily for aesthetic reasons. After being welcomed by the locals last year, he hopes to return for his next film to Hico, population 1,600, during better times.

“There’s definitely something special about Texas for this particular type of story,” Zuhdi said. “[The landscape] became very much a character.”

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