NASHVILLE, Tenn. Movies often are judged on their entertainment value, but one particular low-budget film gaining steam in theaters is being judged on something else the number of lives it has saved.
It's a bold claim, but one that "Bella" a pro-life movie that surprised film observers by winning the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival's People's Choice Award apparently can support.
"It's been amazing," lead actor Eduardo Verastegui told an audience in Nashville, Tenn., Nov. 17. "We've received so many e-mails and letters from young ladies who just days before were scheduled to have an appointment to have an abortion and after they saw 'Bella' they kept their baby."
But Bella is making headlines for other reasons as well. On its opening weekend Oct. 26-28, it finished second nationally in per-theater average, finishing behind the horror flick "Saw IV." Bella opened in 165 theaters that weekend but was shown in more than 450 theaters last weekend as it passed the $5 million gross mark, according to figures at BoxOfficeMojo.com. Thanksgiving marks the beginning of its fifth weekend. By comparison, another recent low-budget film, "Facing the Giants," grossed $10 million during a 17-week run.
Despite the fact it's been in theaters now for a month, Bella rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief disturbing imagery still ranks No. 1 among all movies on both The New York Times' reader's review poll and Yahoo user's poll. Fan reviewers at the movie website Fandango.com have it at No. 2.
The movie's story follows a young unwed pregnant mother, distraught over her situation. A co-worker, played by Verastegui, befriends her and helps her cope.
Bella's recognition at the Toronto International Film Festival put it in the same company as "Chariot's of Fire" and "Hotel Rwanda," both of which won the same award. It was made for a reported $3 million.
"This is not King Kong or Spiderman," Verastegui said. "It's a small-budget film a little film with a big heart. The only way this film is 'flying' is by word of mouth."
It's also been helped along by several pro-family organizations. Focus on the Family has promoted it as has the Family Research Council and other pro-life organizations nationwide. It's even received high praise from secular reviewers who have applauded, among other things, the performances, screenplay and cinematography.
The movie impressed veteran movie producer Stephen McEveety ("Braveheart," "The Passion of The Christ,") enough that after seeing it he signed on as executive producer to help promote it.
Bella is the first film released by Metanoia Films, a new company formed by Verastegui and four other partners. Verastegui himself is well-known in Hispanic cultures, having starred in Spanish soap operas and even being named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in People en Espanol. But after taking the lead role in the U.S. film "Chasing Papi," Verastegui had a change of heart as to his involvement in edgy productions. Metanoia Films subsequently was formed.
"In my opinion I was poisoning our society with the projects I was involved 'with'," he said. "One day I made a decision, made a promise to God that I would never use my talents to do anything that will offend my culture, my family. That's when I had this conviction to open a production company to produce films that will have potential not only to entertain but to make a difference."
Verastegui, one of the movie's producers, said he wanted to make films so clean he could "invite my mother or my grandmother."
"At the same time I was so passionate about promoting the gospel of life, the sanctity of life to show in a very subtle way and a very artistic way why life is sacred, life is a gift from God," he said.
The movie certainly has filled that life-affirming role. About 18 months ago Verastegui learned of a young man in Miami whose girlfriend was pregnant and had made an appointment to get an abortion. Verastegui talked them into cancelling the appointment, went to Miami and showed them an early version of the film. The woman decided to keep the baby and named it "Bella."
"Even if 'Bella' doesn't sell one more ticket," Verastegui said, "I rejoice in the Lord for Bella and for many other babies … who are around because of this film."
For more information about the movie, visit www.bellathemovie.com.