‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” So begins “Bella,” the heartbreakingly beautiful independent film that opened last week to enthusiastic audiences across the country.
By ROSEMARY C. McDONOUGH Winner of the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, this celebration of life will make you think, make you cry, make your spirits soar. “Bella” is the story of a single, pregnant waitress who loses her job, and a once-famous soccer star whose life has been ruined by a tragic accident. The film chronicles one day in the life of their friendship – a day that will change their lives, offering hope to her and redemption to him.
The back story of “Bella,” financed by Main Line natives Eustace and Sean Wolfington, is as inspiring as the film itself. Made on a shoestring ($5.5 million) and shot in just 23 days, “Bella” stars Mexican pop idol Eduardo Verastegui. You’ve probably never heard of him, but I assure you that that’s about to change.
Verastegui is to Mexico what Antonio Banderas is to Spain: a handsome, gifted actor whose talent appeals to both Spanish- and English-speaking audiences. But Verastegui is out to make a very special sort of film.
He got his start in Mexico as a singer in a boy band, then went on to become the young heartthrob of Mexican soaps. “In Mexico,” he said, “your options for acting are soap operas – and more soap operas.” So he moved to Hollywood, where he was cast in a variety of films that played to his handsome Latino image: bandito, Don Juan, liar, bad guy.
He was on an upward trajectory of money and fame. But his life seemed superficial. Then, an epiphany – his career had done nothing but feed the negative stereotype of the Latino man.
“I realized,” he said, “that there were no Latino heroes in film. I wanted to play a real man, a man of integrity, one who cared about his family, did not objectify women and could be a positive role model. We are all equal in human dignity. I wanted to make films that portrayed that.”
Enter fellow Mexican Alejandro Monteverdo. An aspiring director, he came to the United States to study film at the University of Texas. The first time he picked up a camera, he won four awards. As his reputation spread, he met and married the actress Ali Landry, who plays a small but pivotal role in “Bella.”
He also met Verastegui. In his fellow countryman, he saw someone who shared his desire to create films that would transform the soul. With Leo Severino, their business manager, they created Metanoia Films. Metanoia, which means “light from the darkness,” was a symbol of the art they wanted to create.
Great – but what about money? The films they envisioned wouldn’t fly in Hollywood. Fate intervened when Verastegui met Sean Wolfington in L.A. “When I met Sean,” he said, “I knew I had met a brother.” Wolfington insisted that Verastegui, Monteverdo and Severino (who dubbed themselves the Three Amigos) come to Philadelphia to see his uncle, Eustace Wolfington, a real-estate and media financier.
Recalls Wolfington: “We did it on a handshake alone. That’s how strongly I felt about them. I knew this would be a film with integrity, wisdom and heart.”
Neither Wolfington had ever produced a film. But their instincts were on target. “Bella’s” award at the Toronto Film Festival put it in the same league as Oscar winners “Chariots of Fire” and “Life is Beautiful.” The Smithsonian has given “Bella” its Legacy Award for positive portrayal of Latinos.
The Heartland Film Festival awarded it the $100,000 prize for best dramatic feature. And the National Council for Adoption, whose board I head, has given Metanoia Films its Excellence in Adoption Media Award.
Treat yourself to this inspiring film this weekend, at theaters in Bala Cynwyd or King of Prussia. “Bella’s” tale of a lonely girl’s choice will warm your heart. *
Rosemary C. McDonough is a local writer. E-mail email@example.com. For more about “Bella,” call Alex Wolfington, PR director, at 610-992-5876, or see www.bellathemovie.com.
Read the original article here.