From Fran's Hamburgers on South Congress Avenue to Mr. Natural on East Cesar Chavez Street, Austinites won't have any trouble spotting the local landmarks that appear in the dramatic comedy "Have You Seen Lupita?" by Chilean director Gonzalo Justiniano. The film, which was partially shot in Austin, will open the 15th annual Cine Las Americas International Film Festival at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

"Have You Seen Lupita?" tells the story of a young woman who runs away from her family in Mexico after they try to check her into a mental hospital and strip her of her mother's inheritance. As she heads north to the United States, she meets Chepita, a fairy godmother-like figure who shares the adventures with her.

Lupita embarks on a strange journey that questions what it really means to be normal in a world that can seem insane. The plot grows more bizarre the closer her journey gets to Austin. "Con—gress," Lupita says slowly in one scene as she practices pronouncing the name of our downtown street. It's one of the many scenes shot during the movie crew's two-week stay here.

But filming in Austin wasn't always the plan. In addition to shooting in parts of Chile and Mexico, the crew was scheduled to shoot in Los Angeles — until Mexico-based film producer Daniel de la Vega discovered Austin.

De la Vega was invited to serve as a festival jury member two years ago for Cine Las Americas, while "Have You Seen Lupita?" was in pre-production. That's when, he said, he started envisioning filming the movie in Austin instead. The film's storyline was not tied to a specific American city, so the crew had more flexibility.

"During the few days I was there, I felt the friendliness of the city and saw there was a real possibility of filming there," de la Vega said. "And within about three months, I found myself back in Austin with the cast and film crew."

Cine Las Americas Executive Director Eugenio del Bosque said the organization introduced them to the Texas Film Commission and offered support as they brought those days of production here. "We were looking to create the opportunity for Latino films to shoot here, so this comes full circle for us," del Bosque said.

The international impact of local film festivals such as South by Southwest has helped put Austin on the radar for Latin American filmmakers who now see the city as a film destination, according to del Bosque. It takes the right kind of story, del Bosque said — like "Have You Seen Lupita?" — to be told here, but he hopes more local and foreign filmmakers consider creating Austin-centric Latino films.

"Have You Seen Lupita?" brings strong Latin American star power with a seasoned and well-known cast including Mexican film and television actress Carmen Salinas and Chilean actor Cristián de la Fuente.

Dulce María, a singer and actress best known for her role in the hit Mexican teen drama "Rebelde" and as a member of the pop music band RBD, plays Lupita. Dulce María is scheduled to attend the festival's opening night.

It was about a year after "Have You Seen Lupita?" wrapped production in Austin before the festival staff saw a completed version.

"Once we saw it, we loved it," del Bosque said. "We thought (opening the festival with it) was the right thing to do."

Contact Nancy Flores at 912-2559