The Smithsonian Institute presented Bella’s filmmakers Eduardo Verastegui, (Actor and Producer) and Alejandro Monteverde (Writer and Director) with the prestigious “Legacy Award” for their film Bella at its annual gala.
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Bella Becomes the #1 Top Rated Movie of 2007 By Aaron Glickman, Publisher
Last September, the Smithsonian Institute presented Bella’s filmmakers Eduardo Verastegui, (actor/producer) and Alejandro Monteverde(writer/director) with the prestigious “Legacy Award” for their film Bella at its annual gala. The Legacy Awards honor role models who have made a significant impact on American culture and society through their art. “Bella is a masterpiece and it will be in the Smithsonian’s archives along with the hope diamond, the star spangled banner and the ruby slippers,” said Henry Munoz, the Chairman of the Smithsonian Latino Center. In addition to pleasing the Smithsonian Institute, Bella became the #1 Top Rated Movie of 2007 from the users of the biggest film review website in the world, www.RottenTomatoes.com.Bella was also one of the most honored films of the year – winning the highly-coveted“Peoples Choice Award,” a distinction that puts it in the company of such Oscar-winning films as Chariots of Fire, American Beauty, Life is Beautiful, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hotel Rwanda.Since Toronto, the Bella team has been honored at the Whitehouse, the Mexican Embassy and they won Best Picture and Best Actor at the 2008 Movie Guide Awards. The Wall Street Journal said Bella was “the biggest surprise of the Year” because it generated the largest box office results of every film released in 2007 in its category.
Since its debut, Bella has touched the lives of audiences across the country, but it has also enchanted critics and has been declared “A film that will stay with you forever” (NBC-Miami), “Warm, sweet and funny” (Roger Ebert) and “the warmest family drama I’ve seen in years” (Film Journal). Fans of the film have been the key to its success including Grammy® and Emmy® Award winning singer-songwriter Tony Bennett who hailed Bella as “The best movie of the year, a perfect film, a masterpiece,” and entertainer Rosie O’Donnell chose Bella as her top film of 2007 saying, “I love this film.It is a beautiful movie.” When Edward James Olmos chose Bella to open the LA Latino International Film Festival out of the thousands of films produced this year he said, “It is one of the most impressive landmark films to open our festival in 10 years… a film people have to see, it really captures the heart and makes you think. It is one of the best films to come out in a long time.”
“We applaud Metanoia Films for their work and dedication to presenting the Latino experience in a dignified and positive light” said Pilar O’Leary, the executive director of the Smithsonian Institutes Latino Center. The Smithsonian award is one more mark of prestige in Verastegui’s and Monteverde’s impressive career as filmmakers. The story behind these wonderful men is an inspiration to all artists who pursue a dream and do what it takes to make it a reality.
Eduardo Verástegui is the son of a sugar cane farmer from a small town in Mexico named Xicotencatl. During a phenomenal career as a recording artist who toured in 13 countries and an actor who starred in five highly-rated telenovelas and the American film Chasing Papi, Verastegui had been signed by a high-profile talent agency and management company who were guiding his fast track to stardom. As his career was skyrocketing Verastegui realized that he was unfulfilled and that he wanted something more. He wanted to make films that “have the potential to touch people’s hearts and minds”. He did not want to continue to take roles that contributed to the negative stereotype of Latinos in film. “I wanted to portray Latinos as heroes, not like Batman or Superman, but everyday heroes who are hard working people of integrity, individuals who are willing to sacrifice for their family and for others,” said Verastegui. There were not a lot of projects coming out of Hollywood that were in line with his mission. “After not working for almost 3 years I realized that I had to start my own production company that would make films that entertain, engage and inspire audiences with a positive message. Family is the foundation of society for the Latino culture and I want to pursue projects that show how families protect, help and love each other, “says Verastegui.“Both Alejandro (the director) and I wanted to show Latino culture in a positive way without being unrealistic.”
Born in the small town of Tampico, Mexico, Alejandro Monteverde knew from a very young age that he wanted to become a filmmaker. But that dream, to a boy from a small town in Mexico, seemed about as likely as winning tops honors at the most influential film festival in the world, which he accomplished with Bella. At the age of seventeen, with the support of his family, Monteverde journeyed to the United States without knowing a word of English to enroll at the University of Texas’ film school, one of the top film programs in the nation. Denied admission several times, Monteverde knew that he hadn’t traveled that far to accept defeat so easily. He attended a local community college and kept reapplying. Overcoming the hurdle of the admissions process, a lack of fluent English and a constant shortage of money, Monteverde’s tenacity finally earned him a seat at the UT, where he quickly excelled, breaking the school’s award-winning track record. He won 4 festivals the first time he picked up a camera for Bocho and then won 7 festivals for his second short film Waiting for Trains.
After graduating from the University of Texas, Monteverde joined forces with superstar actor Verastegui and Leo Severino (20th Century Fox business affairs exec) to create Metanoia Films to make movies that matter. The “Three Amigos” designed their business cards and were ready to go but the only problem was that they did not have financing. Along came Sean Wolfington and Eustace Wolfington, entrepreneurs who shared their vision for making meaningful movies. The Wolfington’s agreed to finance the film and the “5 Amigos” formed a production company called Metanoia Films and finished the development of the script.After sharing their vision with Hollywood studios they could not get financial support so they risked their own money to film Bella in New York City in only 24 days on a shoe-string budget. One year later Bellatook top prize at the largest and most prestigious film festival in the world, Toronto’s International Film Festival, by winning the highly-coveted “People’s Choice Award,” and subsequently became the #1 Rated Film of 2007 and the top grossing film of every move released last year in its category.
If winning such professional acclaim had seemed impossible, marrying a former Miss USA seemed like an even more remote possibility. Yet in 2006 Monteverde wed Ali Landry, an accomplished actress, beginning the most important chapter in the story of his American dream. Ms. Landry and Monteverde recently had their first child, a little girl named Stella.
After distributors turned them away the Bella team decided to finance the distribution of the film themselves. Audiences all over the world were so moved by Bella that they adopted theaters by buying out all the seats for a particular showing to ensure a successful opening weekend. Almost 500 people volunteered to buy out screens to help this little film succeed. Some organizations used these private screenings as fundraisers to raise more than $30,000 in one evening and others used it asa social event to raise awareness about the beauty of adoption.
“Our mission is to make films that make a positive impact and we got unbelievable support from a lot of people who share this mission” said financier and producer Sean Wolfington. The filmmakers dedicated an entire section of their website, www.BellaTheMovie.com, to equip people to promote their film and to pre-purchase theatres. “We have an army of supporters who believe in Bella and they volunteered to help mobilize people on opening weekend,” said Wolfington.People handed out flyers, hung posters, emailed friends and contacted their local press to encourage them to publish stories about this little film with a big heart.In addition to the grass roots support the film received, Bella attracted the support of many great artists. Bella features a beautiful music score with a work composed and performed by Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Alejandro Sanz. “We showed the film to Alejandro in his house and he loved it. He gave us two songs from his new best selling CD, El Tren de los Momentos, and they are absolutely beautiful,” said Wolfington. The lead singer of Switchfoot also donated a song after being inspired by the film during a private screening. “He gave us his favorite song that he wrote for his wife when they were dating.” Nobody expected this little film to make such a big impact but that is the beauty of art – innovation can come from anyone who has the courage and talent to make it happen. Currently the film is being released around the world and the DVD arrives in stores on May 6.