Gonzales is becoming more active in the television and film industry with shows like “The Son” deciding to set up shop here, so it's natural to see a crew in town, especially now that the city has been certified as “film friendly” by the Texas Film Commission.
But the small, independent picture that lensed in the district courtroom at the county courthouse earlier this month scratched very close to home with the material they were covering. The film's director, Nellie Gonzalez, brought a small crew to shoot some scenes for a project she is leading about the Bettie and Rueben Ramirez murder trial that happened here in 2009.
“I wanted to use the very courtroom where the trial took place,” said Gonzalez.
That weeklong trial led to guilty verdicts for the couple, convicted of bodily injury to a child for a girl they had adopted, Cassandra, and the murder of her sister, Crystal. Both Bettie and Rueben will be spending the remainder of their lives in prison for their acts.
This particular scene in the courthouse was of the actual trial. Two cameras were trained on the action as local residents played a jury and actors portrayed the attorneys and the judge. Various production crew milled about as Gonzalez directed the next scene. Looking on from behind the cameras was a young woman who was watching someone play herself on the stand. Cassandra Millington, who was 10 at the time of the abuse, worked to keep her newborn calm as she talked about seeing her story turned into a film project.
“I wasn't expecting it to happen,” said Millington. “Now that it is, I think it is good. It will open peoples' minds. It's something people need to hear.”
She recalled the feeling of her abuse, citing concern that wasn't reported or properly investigated in the lead-up to the murder. It was a textbook example of child abuse, she said, and adults wouldn't confront the issue even though the sisters were severely underweight and went around hiding their scars and bruises by wearing turtlenecks in the summer.
“If people think they see something, they need to speak up for people that can't speak for themselves,” Millington said. “Some people are upset that we are here. But this is my story and this is my sister's story, and I'm going to tell it for her.”
And that feeling is what director Gonzalez wants to get across with her film project. She discovered the subject matter three years ago and has so far completed a television episode and a short documentary about the ordeal. This film, which is a scripted short, is a vehicle she plans to use to pitch to a major movie studio in the hopes of having it turned into a full-length picture.
“My hope and prayer is to make a feature film that will create awareness and educate the public about this subject matter and showcase the inspirational story of survival against impossible odds,” Gonzalez said. “I have heard that there was a great divide among the citizens, but my journey is to tell the true and factual events that happened, and if that offends some people, maybe they should reconsider who they stand by... the evil that were among them or the brutal abuse of two beautiful innocent little angels who paid dearly and one ultimately with her life.”
To view the previously released short documentary “Little Angels,” visit https://vimeo.com/169000443?ref=em-share.