Film producer Daniel Lewis, who currently lives in Baton Rouge, said he knew there was something special about the Harbor Lights Festival at Gulfport’s Jones Park.
“I was down here shooting a movie last year and I saw the Christmas show in Jones Park. And I brought my family down and we had a great time and I said to myself, ‘The world needs to know about this,’” Lewis said. “It was a great memory for us and when we started discussing our next Christmas movie, I knew I wanted it to center around that light show.”
On Saturday, Dec. 9, the festival of lights will make its debut on the international stage when it is featured as the centerpiece of Lewis’ latest production, “Christmas in Mississippi.” The film will air on Lifetime. Check local listings for channel availability.
Based on a true story
Lewis said the film is truth-based, at least from an organizational standpoint.
“The story was so interesting that we took a lot from it and actually put it in the story,” he said. “It’s about Gulfport, playing Gulfport, Mississippi.”
City spokesman Chris Vignes said the vision for the light show started as a way to make the city a Christmas destination.
“Gulfport was well known as a ‘Christmas destination’ because of the number of holiday events the city hosted,” Vignes said. “We wanted to find a way to get to back to that and increase our holiday tourism, so Councilman Rusty Walker suggested we bring a light show to Jones Park and we took that vision to Rick Carter and the people at Island View Casino and they helped bring the dream to fruition — we’re now in our third year of hosting one of the major Christmas attractions on the Gulf Coast.”
Lewis said the synopsis of the film is about a Gulfport native returning to her hometown as a photo journalist to cover the destruction after a “major hurricane.”
“We never mention Hurricane Katrina by name, but she comes home to cover the destruction of her hometown and that story puts her on the map because people saw how Gulfport was near and dear to her,” Lewis said. “She returns home again to cover the first Christmas light show since the hurricane and when she returns she finds out her old high school sweetheart is running the light show —it’s a very special story with a lot scenes in downtown Gulfport and the Island View Casino.”
The film starts actress/musician Jana Kramer (“One Tree Hill”) and Wes Brown.
Christmas in the middle of summer
Although the film is set in Gulfport, Lewis said he had actually scouted locations in other states. But he said Mayor Billy Hewes and his staff and Carter’s staff at the Island View made certain the movie was shot on the Coast.
“They all said if you’re going to make a movie about the light show we put on in Gulfport, Mississippi, then we want you to shoot it here and we’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen,” he said.
Lewis said the city agreed to put some of the light show, including the Christmas trees, up in Jones Park during the summer.
“We tried to be pretty tight-lipped about it, but when you set up all these Christmas trees in Jones Park in the middle of the summer, people are going to know about it,” he said. “But we reached out to the community and we had so many people come out and help us make this film that was going to be seen around the world look and feel as authentic as possible —we did our best to capture the community of Gulfport and the Mississippi Gulf Coast and what it means to everybody to have events like the light show in the park.”