‘Bella’ film a hit at first local screening

CHESTNUT HILL -- While the Red Sox were clinching the ACLS, the movie “Bella” hit a home run at a private screening at Boston College.

The Sox will be in the middle of the World Series when “Bella” hits theaters in New York City and more than 30 other markets on Oct. 26. The movie is expected to premiere in the Boston area sometime in November.

Viewers said “Bella” was beautiful, hopeful and upheld the dignity of the human person. The film’s strong pro-life message enamored the audience, which represented nearly 60 parishes and other Catholic organizations in the Archdiocese of Boston. The archdiocese’s Pro-Life Office is working with these groups to bring the film to theaters in Eastern Massachusetts.

“Bella,” a 2006 film produced by Metanoia Films, won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival last year. The movie has also broken the record for the most pre-sold tickets of any movie in the United States.

Marianne Luthin, director of the archdiocese’s Pro-Life Office, said the film’s pre-selling success is a result of screenings in dioceses throughout the country where Catholics “have made a commitment to help this incredibly beautiful film.”

The movie can have a tremendous impact in building a true culture of life, she said, adding “‘Bella’ gives an opportunity to change hearts and to change lives.”

“Bella,” which means “beautiful” in Spanish, chronicles the life of Jose, who experiences a tragedy that changes his entire life and destroys his budding soccer career. He becomes a chef, working in his brother’s New York City restaurant, and befriends one of the waitresses, Nina, who is fired for arriving late. He discovers that the reason for her tardiness is that she is pregnant. Without the support of the child’s father, Nina believes her only choice is abortion.

Jose listens patiently to her concerns, shares his own tragedy and realizes that his pain is an opportunity to save the life of this child.

The changes Jose experiences mirror the behind-the-scene’s conversion story of the film’s star, Eduardo Verastegui. The actor who played Jose recounted the changes in his life in a trailer following the screening.

After a decade as a famous Mexican singer and soap star, Verastegui found that his life was empty and superficial. Instead of using his talents to contribute to bettering the world, he was poisoning the society with the projects he worked on, Verastegui said.

“I knew that I wasn’t born to be a movie star or famous actor. Those things are just means,” he said. “I was born to know, to love and to serve Jesus Christ.”

Later, he met former 20th Century Fox entertainment lawyer Leo Severino after a weekday Mass in 2004 at Good Shepherd Parish in Beverly Hills. The two formed Metanoia Films and began work on their first project, “Bella.”

Before filming, Verastegui researched his role by visiting an abortion clinic. Shocked by the sight of teenage girls entering the clinic, Verastegui was asked by sidewalk counselors to speak to a young couple from Mexico who did not speak any English. The two immediately recognized the former soap star and spoke with him for almost an hour.

Months later, Verastegui received a call from the couple to let him know that their baby boy was born and to ask for his permission to name the baby Eduardo.

“I put the phone down, and I couldn’t even talk. It’s the most noble thing I have ever done in my life,” he said. “By the grace of God, I was able to save this baby.”

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley addressed the crowd at the screening, saying that “Bella” captures the essence of the pro-life movement. He previously viewed the movie at a June meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“That is what the pro-life movement is about -- letting the world know that life is beautiful and every life is important,” he said.

The cardinal added that the movie is a modern means of communicating the Gospel.

“We do need ways to teach the truths of the Gospel through our modern culture,” he said, joking “I always said that if we could come up with a Catholic soap opera, we’d be able to convert the world.”

Cardinal O’Malley also encouraged the audience to support and promote the movie as much as they can. Supporters can pre-purchase individual tickets or sponsor an entire theater.

Luthin emphasized the importance of “Bella” reaching as many markets as possible so that more people will see it. The film addresses many of the concerns and problems that women face while in a crisis pregnancy, she said.

“I got home about four hours ago from our Project Rachel weekend retreat in which we experience the enormous depth of pain of women like you saw portrayed by Nina today,” she said.

Project Rachel is a ministry of post-abortion healing and reconciliation.

“It’s very real,” Lorraine Loewen, who participates in sidewalk counseling outside an abortion clinic, said of “Bella.”

Her friend, Virginia Pagliuca added that the movie is about the beauty of a child and hope for unwed mothers.

“It’s a movie you’re going to think about. It’s going to be with you,” she said.

George Riley said he hopes the movie will spur greater pro-life awareness.

“Hopefully it’s going to be a part of conquering the culture of death in this country,” he said.

Abigail Craycraft, a Boston College freshman and member of the campus pro-life group, said the film was moving.

“They really epitomized the importance, the beauty and the individuality of life -- just how precious it is,” she said.

For more information on “Bella,” visit www.BellaTheMovie.com.