With trailer, new film inspired by Marfa Lights prompts curiosity on local social media

Towards the start of the film, the four main characters — accompanied by “the hitchhiker” played by Stelio Savante — stop by “Giant” mural west of Marfa to take pictures. “That’s one of their last stops before they get to Marfa,” explained director Andy Stapp. “It’s a non-dialogue scene.” From left to right: Brittany Alvardo, Savante, Marcus Jahn, Kyle Colton, Tracy Perez. Screengrab courtesy of director Andy Stapp

MARFA — A couple weeks ago, a new trailer for a film called “Destination: Marfa” started going viral on local social media. Residents wondered how they’d never heard of the film before, and why few, if any, had noticed the film sets or ensemble of actors. But perhaps more than anything, they wondered: What is the movie about? What genre is it even?

The short answer: “Destination: Marfa” is a surreal sci-fi film set in Marfa and partially inspired by the Marfa Lights, according to Andy Stapp, who wrote and directed the film. It follows four young people as they “make certain decisions in their life that could affect them forever,” said actor Stelio Savante. With producers still finding a distributor, those involved with the film, including Stapp, wouldn’t say much about the plot.

Asked about the title, Stapp would only drop hints but said that Marfa was a “huge, almost unavoidable destination” in the film and that “the trick” for characters was “how to leave it.”

The long answer starts in 2010, when Stapp, a veteran with a then-budding career in reality TV shows about cars, came out for a visit. He stopped at the viewing station on U.S. 90 — and in a rare stroke of luck for a first-time tourist, he says he saw the lights.

“It took a little bit, but then, way out in the distance, you would see the glowing of a white light,” he said. “It’d get bright and brighter. Sometimes it would move left or right, and occasionally it would change colors.” He tried to record them, but they didn’t quite turn out on video.

The trip and those lights left an impression on Stapp, and he started writing a film script inspired by both. He finished the script in 2018, and in 2019 they started shooting.

“It’s a very unusual film,” he said. While producers and possible distributors were calling it a sci-fi, even that genre is “a little iffy.” Stapp compared it to a “John Hughes ‘80s movie,” a bildungsroman story with similarities to the Twilight Zone. The original tagline was: “Four friends, mysterious lights and a forever-changing journey.”

He financed the film for around $400,000, and the actual shooting took place over two weeks, in part to save money. Some of the filming occurred in or around Marfa, including shots of the town, the Presidio County Courthouse, a scene on U.S. 67 south of Marfa and a scene in Valentine. But much of it happened elsewhere in Texas, including scenes shot at a diner in Plainview and a recreation of the Marfa Lights Festival in Lockney.

Stapp was willing to give up one specific detail about the film: At the end of the movie, he said, some messages come up explaining that the Marfa Lights are real. “Wait a second,” he imagines viewers thinking, “this is based on an actual phenomenon? This is based on a real deal?”

Marfans, of course, are already well-acquainted with the Marfa Lights. Asked whether Marfa viewers might have a different reaction to the film than those in L.A. or New York, Stapp said, “I’ve thought about this a million times.”

Stelio Savante, who plays “the hitchhiker” in the film, gets a ride from the main characters outside of Prada Marfa. The characters had just met Savante elsewhere, at a gas station, said director Andy Stapp. “He’s a hitchhiker, but somehow he ends up way ahead of them,” Stapp said. The characters “make a comment about that.” They decide to “roll the dice” and “pick this guy up” — “part of a decision-making process that alters the course of their future.” Screengrab courtesy of director Andy Stapp