Sometimes beauty comes from pain. This is a story of something beautiful coming out of the emptiness that one man felt, and what he and his friends are doing to make a difference in the world.
At age twenty-eight, Mexican actor Eduardo Verastegui had it all: fame, looks, and success. At seventeen, he had started out on his dream to become a performer and was accepted into the prestigious acting school of top Mexican company Televisa. At nineteen, he became the lead singer of the successful pop group Kairos and traveled the world. At twenty-two, he went solo, and even though he sang for sold-out crowds he felt his career needed something else. He returned to acting and became a Mexican soap opera star. He then moved to the United States to seek opportunities in the American entertainment industry, landing an important role in a U.S. movie. After appearing in a music video with Jennifer Lopez, he began receiving offers for even bigger film roles. Yet he felt empty; happiness eluded him.
Sometimes we can think that happiness comes from having lots of excitement and money, having lots of fans and admirers. Eduardo had all that, but it all began to seem like a puff of smoke, disappearing in a few seconds, leaving nothing meaningful in his heart and his life.
Real happiness is deeper. It is something that comes from living for others. It comes from living true values. It comes from a strong relationship with God – as Eduardo was about to discover.
While preparing for a major film role, his English tutor, a fervent Catholic woman, reminded him of the faith he had grown up with, a faith he had largely abandoned. His heart was pierced with the awareness that he was shunning Christ’s love. Tears came. During the next three months, he reevaluated his life. He decided he would live his faith seriously. He decided he wouldn’t accept any more degrading roles. Instead, he would become a missionary in a faraway country. He went to talk to a Catholic priest. The priest helped him go deeper in his conversion, but told Eduardo that he was not called to be a missionary in the jungles. He was to be a missionary to the same culture that had pulled him away from Christ, the world of entertainment.
Eduardo went on a retreat. He thought about the roles he was being offered. He had been called the “Brad Pitt of Latin America,” yet all the roles offered him only showed the Latino man in a bad light: a drug trafficker, a killer, a lying womanizer, etc. But the Latino families he knew were honest, hardworking, faithful, loving.
“So I made two promises to myself: first, that I would not work on any project that went against my moral values; and second, that I would not do anything that misrepresented my people,” said Verastegui. He began to dream of movies that would make a positive impact on people’s lives and hearts.
Eduardo had a friend, Alejandro Monteverde, who had come from Mexico to the United States at the age of seventeen with the dream of becoming a film director. After several failed attempts, he was finally accepted into the film school at the University of Texas where he began winning numerous awards as a student filmmaker. Although he received some very promising offers from large companies, like Eduardo Verastegui, Alejandro Monteverde wanted to create a different type of movie. He, too, had a deep relationship with Christ. He and Eduardo quickly realized that their strong personal faith was pushing them into a new adventure. Thus, Metanoia Films was born.
Leo Severino, a native of Columbia, was working in the business department of 20th Century Fox when he met Eduardo and Alejandro. He was enthused by the talent and faith of these two artists and quickly agreed to join their team as business adviser. The three friends soon became known as “the three amigos.”
Living out of a true sense of faith, trusting in God’s plan, the three reviewed many movie scripts, looking for the type of story that would serve as their first project, but they did not find anything that satisfied them. Talking it over, they decided to have Alejandro write an original story. This required a leap of faith since he had never written a script before. Alejandro went to the mountains to write. He returned with Bella.
Now they had a company and a script, but no money to turn the script into a movie. They made the Hollywood rounds, meeting with indifference and skepticism. Despite continuous obstacles, they persevered, believing in their vision. At that point, Eduardo’s priest friend invited him on a pilgrimage to Rome. During the visit, Eduardo was given the chance to personally greet Pope John Paul II and tell him about Metanoia Films. A week later, back in Los Angeles, Eduardo and his two friends met Catholic businessman Sean Wolfington. He promised to help them financially.
Sean told his friend Steve McEveety (coproducer with Mel Gibson of Braveheart, We Were Soldiers, and The Passion of The Christ) about the new project. Steve was skeptical: a director with no credits, an actor for the most part unknown in the U.S., and a first-time writer. He told Wolfington, “Run for the hills.”
But something he had seen in these young men inspired Sean. They had vision. They had talent. Their script embraced the values that Sean wanted to promote. He thought the project deserved a chance. Sean kept his commitment and convinced his business partner Eustice Wolfington to help. They put up the money to produce the film and became personally involved. Once the filming was completed (on schedule, in just twenty-four days), the team asked Steve McEveety to look at an initial cut. Steve was amazed at what he saw. There was real talent here. He agreed to get involved with the project, giving them further editing advice.
In order to see how the movie competed with other films, they applied for entrance into one of the most renowned film festivals in the industry, the Toronto International Film Festival. Happily, the film was accepted. And then came a surprise that topped all their expectations: competing with over 350 films, many with much bigger budgets and featuring famous directors and actors, Bella won the most coveted prize of the festival, the People’s Choice Award!
Suddenly they were on the map. The People’s Choice Award is often an indication of future Oscar nominations. Oscar winning films such as Hotel Rwanda, Chariots of Fire, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Life Is Beautiful first won at the Toronto Film Festival.
However, there were more challenges ahead. They still did not have a distributor for their film. Bella did not promote the easy attitudes toward sex and violence that have become common in Hollywood products. It also had a pro-life message that went against the current.
The distribution companies were uneasy about committing to something like this.
But the Metanoia team persevered, knowing that their film had an important message and trusting that God’s plan would continue to unfold. Following the grassroots model that had worked for The Passion of The Christ, they organized screenings for groups of community leaders around the country. Momentum grew, and finally, more than a year after finishing the movie, they were able to secure a distribution plan in partnership with two prestigious companies. To boost the buzz about the movie, they offered groups the chance to rent theaters for early showings of the movie. At this writing, these groups have already rented over a hundred theaters around the country to host the early showings, with more requests coming in every day.
Bella is due in theaters on October 26. Metanoia Films hopes to recover its initial investment and generate enough success to give them the chance to continue producing movies with a positive message.
Metanoia is a Greek word for change or conversion. Eduardo Verastegui chose the name not only because the company is a result of the deep spiritual change he experienced but also because he wants to help change the hearts of others. True beauty – the kind that Bella displays – can change people. But making beautiful things, as Eduardo and his friends are showing us, takes passion, faith, and perseverance.