Humboldt Park residents ready for their close-up

Filmmaker Bob Teitel says he has been plotting the making of a movie set in Humboldt Park for a long time.

Residents of this West Side Chicago neighborhood say they've waited a long time too - to see Humboldt Park portrayed as anything other than a haven for drug pushers and gang bangers.

"For once, we have a movie being filmed in Humboldt Park that doesn't focus on Puerto Ricans in gangs," says Enrique Salgado Jr., of Teitel's latest feature film, a Puerto Rican family saga called "Humboldt Park."

Salgado, director of the Humboldt Park's Division Street Business Development Association,  believes that the movie's portrayal of the area will shine a new light on the stigmatized neighborhood.

The stigma is not entirely unearned.

Sergeant C. Daly, of the Chicago Police Department's gang unit, says the neighborhood has a long history of gang violence. The area is now undergoing a period of gentrification, Daly says, but has also been "the birthplace of some of Chicago's most violent street gangs."

But Teitel, a 1990 graduate of Columbia College Chicago's film and video school, whose relatives used to live in  Humboldt Park, was back last month to tell a different kind of story - one residents say is usually overlooked.

Teitel, along with his partner George Tillman Jr. - also a Columbia College Chicago graduate - makes a habit of  locating his films in Chicago.

"Roll Bounce," "Barber Shop,"  "Barber Shop 2: Back in Business," "Beauty Shop" and "Soul Food" were all filmed here.

But "Humboldt Park," the 40-year-old filmmaker's eighth film, gave Teitel the chance to revisit a neighborhood he visited often as a child, and remembers fondly.

"I remembered going there as a kid," says Teitel, who visited for family gatherings, "It's changed, but it's still got that Puerto Rican pride."

Teitel says his idea for the movie goes back more than a decade. "It's something I've been talking to (actor) Freddy Rodriguez to about for 12 years," Teitel says.

Finally, the timing was right. He pitched the idea last summer and finished up shooting last month.

Teitel's wife, director Alison Swan, helped to write the script, which centers on a tight-knit Puerto Rican family as they gather for the holidays in their old neighborhood.

The film stars John Leguizamo and Debra Messing.  But Rodriguez, who plays a returning Iraqi war veteran in the film, is the hometown favorite.

"His family lived across the street from where I grew up" in Bucktown, says Salgado, who worked as a liaison between the filmmakers and the business community.

For the area's Puerto Rican community, Salgado says, such ties are an enormous source of pride.

"It'll be the first time that the neighborhood will be viewed as something positive for the area and the Puerto Rican community," says Salgado, who attended the same Bucktown elementary school as Rodriguez. "And we got a homeboy who stars in it."

Rodriguez was also involved in choosing locations for the film, says Marisol Gomez, whose single-family home has a starring role.

"When they were scouting the bodega on Division and Kedzie, they asked if there were any single family homes in the area," says Gomez, whose actress neighbor has a role in the film and mentioned her home to producers.

 "They told them about our house because we've been living in the area for about 40 years."

Gomez says she was allowed to view scenes being filmed in her home from a production trailer. She also lent a hand by cooking authentic Puerto Rican cuisine for a scene at the boathouse across from her Kedzie Avenue home.

Teitel says he makes a habit of incorporating local residents into his films. "I always do," he says.

Local actor and former Humboldt Park resident Ramses Jimenez, landed a part after three auditions.

And local theater actress Jessica Camacho - also a former resident of the neigborhood, also has a role.

Camacho says it was "refreshing" to see the area portrayed in a positive light.

Many local businesses also appear in "Humboldt Park," as part of a key scene depicting the Hispanic celebration of Three Kings Day.

Omar Rodriguez, a manager at Luquillo's Barber Shop, was approached by Teitel about shooting a scene at the shop's backroom domino table. The storefront was also filmed. Rodriguez says he was offered payment, but refused, content to have played a part.

He did accept a framed "Barber Shop" poster and a prop Rodriguez family photo. "It means more to me that the film was shot here," he says.

Osvaldo Leon, who works nearby at Jayuya's Barber Shop, says he was also proud to have the filming crew shooting outside the business. "It's good to have a movie being made that shows that there are more than gangbangers in this neighborhood," Leon says.

The film, a production of State Street Pictures and 2DS Productions, is scheduled for release November 26.