Friday, October 26, 2007

'Bella' Mania

Many of you are probably already aware of the amazing pro-life movie that's going to hit selected theatres next weekend. The blogs seem to be heating up with pre-"Bella" coverage, most of it deservedly positive. I'll point you to AmericanPapist, who has an extensive listing of links and his own review.

Below I'm posting my own story, on Eduardo Verástegui's amazing conversion story, which I wrote after viewing the movie at a screening held at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse last December. I have yet to review the movie, though, and with my tight time schedule, we'll probably end up publishing a CNS review. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed the movie and its positive message immensely. Not only is the message right on and one society needs to hear, but the movie is uniquely produced, and is truly a work of art. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

I looked on the the official "Bella" website, and unfortunately the two closest theatres to La Crosse, Wis., will be ones in Des Moines, Iowa, and Minneapolis, Minn. Lucky you, if you're in the big cities. Make sure you go see it and invite your friends, too, so it spreads out to little towns like ours :-)

Actor’s metanoia leads to ‘Bella’
By Franz Klein
Staff Writer

LA CROSSE – It is said that God brings people into a person’s life to lead him or her toward Him. Hollywood actor Eduardo Verástegui says his English teacher Jasmine was such a person.
Together with producer Leo Severino, Verástegui was at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse on Dec. 12 to promote Metanoia Film’s first full-length feature, “Bella,” which is set to be released in April after winning the “People’s Choice” at the Toronto Film Festival in September.
Previous winners include “Chariots of Fire,” “Life is Beautiful” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Together with Severino and film writer Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, Verástegui founded Metanoia Films in 2004.

Rich on the outside, but poor inside

At 33 years of age, Verástegui – one of the “50 most beautiful people in the world” according to “People en Español” – has been described as a “Mexican Brad Pitt.”
The actor was first propelled to fame as a model for designers such as Calvin Klein and Versace in Mexico City before joining the Latino pop group Kairo. In 1997 Verástegui took to soap operas, finally making his way to Hollywood, where he was chosen as the lead character in the comedy “Chasing Papi” in 2003.
That movie, Verástegui told a rapt audience at the Shrine before they previewed an uncut version of “Bella,” was a total flop, and should have served as a wake-up call.
“Before I joined (Kairo), I thought I would be the happiest person in the world,” Verástegui said. “But I was just as empty as before – actually worse, since now I had tried it. I thought I needed more fame, more money, more pleasures. Everyone in my town was saying, ‘He’s so blessed.’ But inside I felt so poor.”
Certain that his key to happiness lay in Hollywood advancment, Verástegui remained in Los Angeles, where he took English lessons while awaiting a new role. He said these lessons helped him realize that he needed to change more than his acting role.
“Jasmine questioned me on so many things,” Verástegui said about his English tutor, whom he says God placed in his life. “She asked me why I was Catholic, and why I act. I could only understand 10 percent of what she was saying, but it was enough for me to realize I needed to change.”
Explaining that “metanoia” is a Greek word meaning “change,” Verástegui said, “I had my metanoia, and that’s why the name of our company is Metanoia Films.”

Executive at Fox
The metanoia that took place in Verástegui’s life was as radical as Metanoia Film’s mission, which the actor described as enteraining and inspiring people by “telling stories that touch people’s hearts and minds.”
In an interview with The Catholic Times, “Bella” producer Leo Severino said he first met Verástegui after his conversion, when the actor started attending the daily Mass that he frequented. A few years earlier, Severino had read himself back into the faith of his childhood through C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and the Church Fathers.
As a law student at the University of Southern California, Severino had also begun to climb Hollywood’s corporate ladder. “During my first year of law school, I had a summer associate position” at Fox Networks, he said. “While I continued (to study), everyone there rose up. I became the company’s youngest executive.”
As they got to know each other, Severino said he and Verástegui realized their shared faith convictions gave them a common mission. “Some people in Hollywood want to do good things and uplift human dignity,” he said. “We looked at each other and asked, ‘Can we make films and be faithful?’”
As an executive for Fox Networks, Severino had the Hollywood connections to make a movie promoting human dignity. And, as an immensely popular musician and actor in Mexico, Verástegui had the fan base to make it a success. The only thing missing was a good, wholesome movie to make.

Screenwriter on the scene
Then Alejandro Gomez Monteverde entered upon the scene. Monteverde had become something of a legend at the University of Texas, where his films won numerous festivals. According to Severino, the story that was to become “Bella” came to Monteverde as he pulled out of another Hollywood film because of its moral content.
Soon the budding film writer encountered Severino and Verástegui. “When the three of us met, we knew the Lord had a mission for us,” Severino said. “It was unanimous that (Monteverde’s script) was the movie we would produce.”
According to Severino, the three entrepreneurs “left everything on a wing and prayer,” hired a staff and formed Metanoia Films within the month.
With Verástegui’s bank account dwindling, however, the three men knew they had to find funding. Severino said that they were granted an audience with Pope John Paul II in 2004. Within a week they received the necessary funding through a partnership with Sean and Eustace Wolfington, two Hollywood producers. “We started (filming) on the Feast of the Assumption,” Severino said.

“Bella” means “beautiful”
Earlier in the day on Dec. 12, Severino and Verástegui visited Aquinas High School in La Crosse, where they showed the movie trailer and spoke to students.
“We asked the kids how many films they watched,” Severino said. “I wonder how many of these films had good moral content. A movie either elevates human dignity or lowers it.”
But Severino said it’s not enough for a movie to promote good morals – he said it has to be high quality if it’s going to be a success and have a chance to reach a wide audience. Western civilization “used to produce masterpieces for the Lord,” he said, explaining that Metanoia Film’s goal is to portray the good, the true and the beautiful. “John Paul II said art and morality go hand in hand,” Severino said.
Severino is fully convinced that “Bella” is a masterpiece, and critics aren’t disagreeing. What was formerly an independent blip on the Hollywood radar screen is being penciled in by major distributors after the film won the “People’s Choice” Award at the Toronto Film Festival in September. “These films go on to win Oscars,” Severino said.

Ongoing metanoia
Verástegui said that, when he first underwent his conversion, he wanted to escape the world to become a monk. “But I was told by a priest not to run away,” he said. Referring to this priest’s directives to pray the rosary daily and frequent the sacraments, he said, “He gave me the tools I needed, so I decided to stay.”
Verástegui said his own metanoia continues even as he enters into people’s lives through “Bella,” in which he plays the leading role. “The whole mission is to share our life stories, especially with young people, and bring them closer to Chrsit – to get them excited about the faith and serving the Lord,” he said, adding that young Latinos in particular lack role models in the media.
“You don’t see Latinos in films as men of faith and integrity – as heros,” Verástegui said. “That’s why we opened Metanoia Films and produced ‘Bella.’ The Lord is calling us to use the most powerful means, the media, to serve Him.”
Verástegui added that visiting the Shrine in La Crosse was an especially powerful experience, since he had been at the Mexico City Shrine just days earlier. He explained that Archbishop Raymond Burke, who founded the La Crosse Shrine, had given him a copy of the “Nican Mopohua,” which recounts the apparition of Our Lady to St. Juan Diego.
“I read it while I was in Mexico City,” Verástegui said, adding that Our Lady of Guadalupe has become increasingly important to him. “Then I came and saw the church here and was amazed. I see here my purpose. I wasn’t born to be an actor or a producer. I was born to be a saint – to know, to love God. It’s so simple.”


Coroebus said...

Please don't publish the CNS review. Better to not publish any review. The USCCB film office is absolutely abhorrent.

DH said...

Wow! Did you catch the post by Barbara Nicolosi?

and her suggestion of a bandwagon:

I haven't seen either movie but I have seen Raymond Arroyo and Fr. Francis Mary on EWTN interviewing Leo and Eduardo. The hype did make me cringe a bit.

OTOH, I'm not sure I'm real comfortable with Barbara either. She made me cringe with her bit on Scorsese and a new project of his on FUS Presents.

I suppose it's like FUS. People are so starved for Catholism, they'll take anything that passes for it.

Franz Klein said...

I just read the Nicolosi piece, and I must disagree. I was truly taken by the rough-cut version I watched last December. I thought at the time that the film was a work of art. I loved the camera angles, the dialogue that Nicolosi rips in her post, and the plot, which I thought had quite an unexpected result. This movie deserves praise, and not only because it's pro-life and pro-family. It's a good movie. In all fairness, we will be publishing Forbe's CNS review and, yes, he is less than enthusiastic as well.

Coroebus said...

Couldn't you at least publish a review by a Catholic?