“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,” said Edward James Olmos.
“Bella” was selected to open the 2006 LA Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF) out of the thousands of films produced this year. “The festival gets bigger and bigger every year as the Latin film market explodes to meet the demand of the 50+ Latinos that live in the US,” explains Marlene Derme, the director of the festival. “Latino filmmakers have made more progress in the last 10 years than they have over the last 50 years,” said Marlene. “Some of the best films of this time have been made by Latinos including Robert Rodriguez, Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Alejandro Monteverde.
“There are more Latinos in the US than Hispanics in Spain and Canadians in Canada” said Arturo Chavez, director of Spanish programming for Lionsgate. Studios are still trying to figure out how to tap into this huge market of consumers who buy more DVDs than any other group and who represent more than 25% of opening weekend box office revenues. While studios are scrambling to figure out how to take advantage of this huge opportunity, there are a group of very successful Latin filmmakers who are doing a great job making films for their own audiences and for the rest of the world.
The festival’s chairman, Edward James Olmos explained why they chose “Bella” among all of the films to open this year’s festival; “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,” said Olmos. Marlene Derme adds “we loved the fact that the film appeals to whole world.” Eduardo Verástegui, the producer and lead actor explained, “The Latino Film festival means a lot to us because we are Latinos. We are grateful for all the support we have received from the Latino community along the way and we would not be where we are without them. Edward James Olmos has been a guardian angel and we really appreciate everything he has done to support us.” Alejandro Monteverde, the director added, “We are excited that we were asked to open this festival because as Latino filmmakers it is an honor to screen our film for our brothers and sisters.”
The two biggest films of the festival this year, “Bella” and “Babel”, are both made by Mexican directors Alejandro. Alejandro González Iñárritu is aveteran director with films like “21 Grams” and “Amoros Perros” under his belt while Alejandro Monteverde is a rising star who is just starting with his feature film debut, “Bella”. “I have studied and admired Alejandro González Iñárritu for a long time, and I hope to have a career as accomplished as his,”said Monteverde. Coincidentally they are also this year’s winners of the two largest international film festivals, Cannes & Toronto. “Babel” won best picture at Cannes this year and is directed by Iñárritu and stars Brad Pitt. “Bella” was not done in time for Cannes, but they finished in time for the Toronto International Film Festival, where they took the top prize over other Oscar hopefuls such as “All the Kings Men”, “Bobby”, “Penelope”, and others. In the past, many of the films that have won Toronto have gone on to win the Oscar for Best Picture including films like “Chariots of Fire”, “American Beauty”, “Life is Beautiful”, “Tsotsi”, and other great films like “Hotel Rwanda”.
The audiences in Toronto & LA loved Bella because the story made them laugh, cry, and think about what matters. Films that touch people’s hearts have proven to generate strong word of mouth in the past. The Latin community loves the story because it shows the beauty of the Latin culture. “Since the 1930′s Latinos have been stereotyped in the media as criminals, crooks, and Casanovas; at worst they are the drug dealer and at best they are cast as Latin lovers’ explains Eduardo Verastegui, the actor and producer of “Bella”. Our mission is to make films that give an honest protrayl of the Latino culture ans values. Bella shows the beauty of the Latin family, friendship and loyalty. Our culture has a lot to offer the world and we wanted to express that in our film.
There is speculation within the industry that Bella might do what another heartwarming film did 25 years ago. Chariots of Fire, the little-known independent $5 million British film, also made by a first-time director and featuring unknown actors, surprised everyone by winning Toronto and then winning an Oscar for best picture over the $35 million star-studded Reds. Perhaps history will repeat itself.