Who was the first person to tell you about “The Passion of Christ”?
Was I right then? Yes, I was. And today I want to tell you about another independent film that is coming – probably many months from now – that is, in its own way, as miraculous and compelling, as powerful and redemptive.
This time, it’s not the work of a wealthy superstar like Mel Gibson who bypassed the usual creative controls of the U.S. movie industry. This time, the story is even more unlikely, the odds against it even greater.
The name of the movie is “Bella” – and it is beautiful. In many ways it is the opposite of “The Passion.” It is a little picture – small budget, simple story. Chances are you won’t know most of those involved in the picture. In fact, the only person with a Hollywood resume is one of the co-producers who helped shepherd the project through its unlikely birth to its critical success as winner of the prestigious Toronto Film Festival People’s Choice Award. That would be Steve McVeety, who also produced “The Passion.”
But it’s the performance of another co-producer, the acting star of “Bella,” Eduardo Verastegui, a Mexican acting and recording icon, who, in one of his first U.S. roles, will leave you uplifted, teary-eyed and filled with hope. The story of how Verastegui’s career led to the making of “Bella” would make for an interesting script itself.
The son of a sugar-cane farmer from the small northern Mexico village of Xicotencatl, Tamaulipas, Verastegui knew he wanted to be a performer at the age of 17. Gifted with good looks, he headed off to acting school in Mexico City.
Two years later, however, it was his singing voice that jump-started his entertainment career. He had an opportunity to travel the world in the Latin pop group Kairo for three years. Later, capitalizing on his acting skills, he accepted a contract for a Latin soap opera – leading to four renewals and acting superstardom with magazine cover stories and fans in 19 countries.
But Verastegui’s restless heart was unfulfilled. He longed to do something of “substance” – something meaningful – with his abilities.
Moving to Los Angeles, he was hired to perform with Jennifer Lopez in her music video “Ain’t It Funny.” He was immediately noticed in Hollywood. But the roles coming his way were for characters of what he characterizes as “low morals” – criminals and playboys. He turned them down flat.
After 12 years as a pop-group idol, soap-opera star, solo artist, lots of beautiful women, money and fame, Verastegui said his soul was still empty. He wanted more – and he did not mean the things the world measures as success.
Specifically, he thought about his father, a hard-working man with integrity and love for his son and three daughters. He wanted a life of integrity like that.
If good roles were not going to come to him, he would have to find them himself. Versategui decided to form his own film production company, enlisting the support of Alejandro Monteverde, a graduate of the University of Texas film school who shared the performer’s passion for making meaningful, inspiring films.
Soon they were joined by Leo Severino, a Colombian producer and graduate of the University of Southern California Law School who was working at Fox.
“The three amigos,” as they have become known, searched for the right script for their first project but came up empty-handed. So, they sent Monteverde off to the mountains to write one. He returned with “Bella.”
Over a 24-day period, they shot up to eight scenes a day in New York – many times settling for the first take.
The heartwarming story of friendship, family, love, commitment, sacrifice and faith won in Toronto, and it will win your heart.
Remember who told you about “Bella.”
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