Bella: Metanoia Films’ award-winning first film about wounded hearts, family and a crisis pregnancy celebrates love, life and understanding

An interview with filmmakers Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, Eduardo Verástegui, Leo Severino, and Sean Wolfington

SDG Original source: Catholic World Report

It’s the kind of against-all-odds success story every film school student hopes and dreams about. Three first-time film producers — a first-time writer–director, an actor, and a co-writer — set out to make a film with a script and no money. After connecting with entrepreneurs and getting financing, they shoot the film over a little more than three weeks in New York. The finished picture is selected for a major film festival — Toronto — gets some press, and winds up scoring the People’s Choice Award, catapulting it into the spotlight and leading to additional honors and success, including theatrical distribution (set for August 15).

Talk to director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde and his colleagues — actor Eduardo Verástegui, writer–producer Leo Severino, and producer Sean Wolfington — and it’s clear that they’re as thrilled to be in their shoes as any first-time producers and filmmakers would be. At the same time, it’s also clear they have a shared perspective quite different from most filmmakers, whether inside or outside the Hollywood establishment.

Monteverde, a film school graduate and director of award-winning shorts, talks enthusiastically about the skill and inspiration of directors whose technique he admires, such as Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel). But Monteverde and his colleagues are also quick to cite such inspirations as John Paul II, who saw beauty and holiness as two sides of the same coin, and Mother Teresa, whose maxim “We are not called to be successful but to be faithful” became a motto for the filmmakers.

For Verástegui — a former boy-band and telenovela heartthrob known to Latino fans as “the Mexican Brad Pitt” — the mission is simple. “Hollywood doesn’t belong to the studios,” he recently told Decent Films. “Hollywood belongs to God. And we need to take it back. And that’s what I’m trying to do, by example first, trying my best every day to be involved in projects that will inspire people to use their talents to do something positive for the world.”

“I believe that a lot of Hollywood directors are always attracted to the dark side,” Monteverde said. “They always like to explore the broken family, the bad friendships, the bad husbands the bad wives, the pain — everything has to be on the down side.” Monteverde said he wants to emphasize that “at the end of the tunnel there is always that light. There is always hope.”

For Monteverde and Verástegui, the impetus for their commitment to making films with positive themes began with personal conversion and a renewed commitment to their Catholic faith. With Severino, they founded Metanoia Films with the intention of undertaking projects like Bella in keeping with their vision. At the same time, though all are devout Catholics, the partners discourage the characterization of their company or their film Bella as “Catholic.”

“We don’t want to label our company,” Verástegui said. “We want to be just another production company in Hollywood.”

“I didn’t want to make this into a religious film,” Monteverde confirmed. “In my opinion, what makes it connect with audiences is that it deals with universal themes.”

“We wanted to do a story that would appeal to universal audiences,” Severino agreed. “What we’ve found is no matter what the background is, people who’ve seen the film leave the theater touched and moved, and I think it’s because we’re speaking to them truth that’s already written on their heart, truth about the beauty of life, the dignity of the human person, issues of social justice, issues of family, so many things that just ring true to the human heart.”

How does Bella connect with mainstream audiences? What is the center of its appeal? According to producer Sean Wolfington, one of the film’s financiers and co-owners of Metanoia, it isn’t one specific thing; the film is open-ended enough that different viewers respond in different ways.

“There was one day where we were videotaping viewers,” Wolfington recalled, “and the person who was supposed to hold the mike didn’t show up. So I ended up holding the microphone. And what surprised me was how while everybody was moved, they were moved in completely different ways, and for different reasons. I discovered more about the film through their insights than I had from just watching it myself.”

For Monteverde, Bella speaks to the universal experience of family — whether that experience has been good or bad. “We all have families in our lives. Everyone can identify with that. Everyone has a family — whether it’s broken or solid — and that is one of the points that I explore in the film. Nina has a broken family; José has a wholesome family.”

Perhaps the most notable thing about Bella’s mainstream success in Toronto and elsewhere has to do with the film’s subject matter. The drama in Bella centers largely on the crisis of a young waitress named Nina (Tammy Blanchard) who has just discovered that she is pregnant, and begins making plans for an abortion. Verástegui plays a chef named José who carries a burden from his own past, and who spends the day with Nina as she agonizes over her options.

Is Bella a “pro-life” film? That may depend on one’s understanding of the term. It certainly isn’t a tract or propaganda piece against abortion. It isn’t meant to play only to pro-life audiences, or to confront directly the convictions of pro-choice viewers. Bella deals honestly and sympathetically with Nina’s difficult situation and why she feels the way she does. It is sufficiently nuanced and unpreachy that viewers on both sides of the abortion debate have been impressed with its treatment of this difficult issue.

“I have people on both sides involved in the film — pro-life and pro-choice — that really love the movie,” Monteverde noted, adding that he is “really happy” with the film’s broad appeal. Bella has even been criticized by some pro-life activists for its lack of clear condemnation of abortion. Yet certainly Bella is “pro-life” in a broad and far-reaching sense — one that might in principle be affirmed by viewers of differing views of abortion, but in the context of the film’s events is pitted directly against the prospect of abortion.

Monteverde insisted that he “never intended to make this movie a picket sign or a political statement. There was no agenda… I wanted to make a film that makes people understand, not just judge, to understand what a woman goes through.”

Severino reinforced this message of understanding over judgment: “Instead of making a film that was in any way an argument or in any way a propaganda… we were just trying to make a film that was rooted in love and understanding. Our hope is that when people leave our film on any side of an equation they’re going to love more and judge less.”

In particular Monteverdi stressed the failure of many, especially men, to understand the pain and difficulty of an unwanted pregnancy. “I have seen the way it has affected their lives, and how much pain they go through,” the writer–director said. “I also see how many men have no idea what a woman goes through when a woman goes through an unwanted pregnancy. They are naive. There is research on young men that have gone through this after that they don’t feel anything, but then ask the woman and they are completely broken.”

“Over half of the women in this world experience an unwanted pregnancy at some point in their life,” said Wolfington. “We want to encourage people to reach beyond the slogans and the picket signs, and really listen to the experiences and the voices of women. And what we found is that a lot of people who face these decisions oftentimes make sporadic decisions out of fear, and as a result they feel that they have no choice.”

With Bella, Wolfington said, the intention was “not to debate or to preach. The purpose of the film was to tell a true story, because this film was inspired by actually more than one true story. and to try to do it honestly and effectively, but we’re very happy that it has resulted in people engaging these questions.”

Coincidentally, Bella arrives in theaters not long after a pair of other films about young women dealing with unexpected or unwanted pregnancies — one of which was even another indie film about an unhappily pregnant waitress. That film was Waitress, the final film from the late writer-director Adrienne Shelly (who tragically was murdered last year shortly before the film played at Sundance). The other, a very different film, was the raunchy comedy Knocked Up.

Intriguingly, though arguably neither of these films is “anti-abortion,” they might both be said to be “pro-life” in ways similar to Bella, and reflecting at least indirectly on abortion. Though neither deals with the prospect of abortion as extensively as Bella, in both of the other films abortion is mentioned as an option only to be rejected. Furthermore, in both films abortion is mentioned as a possibility only by insensitive and callous individuals (just as in Bella Nina reports the baby’s father telling her to “take care of it”). And Waitress in particular ends on an uplifting “pro-life” note strikingly similar to Bella.

Though neither Waitress nor Knocked Up was any sort of anti-abortion tract, the coincidence was notable enough to draw the ire of National Post columnist Chris Knight, who pointedly wondered why abortion wasn’t more seriously considered in these films. (Will Knight be more appeased by Bella, in which the prospect of abortion is considered at much greater length? Or is it really one particular choice rather than another that he objects to?)

While the filmmakers disclaimed an agenda with regard to the theme of abortion, on a smaller scale both Monteverde and Verástegui did express a strong point of view regarding a morally significant issue in the culture at large and in their film: the portrayal of Latinos in the media.

“I went to film school,” noted Monteverde, “and I was the only Latino in most of the classes. One time I took a course on Latinos in media — and I realized that Latinos were being stereotyped in the cinema. From the 1930s pretty much until today, always exploring the negative side of our culture: the prostitute, the drug dealer, or the Don-Juan Casanova. You never see a Latino as a hero — not a hero like Superman or Batman or any of those guys; a man of integrity, a man who sacrifices for his wife or children, a good citizen that serves his country. … When I was the only Mexican in the class, I felt embarrassed about this stereotype. The Latinos as the bad guy, the dirty guy — even from my own people.”

Verástegui’s experience as an actor told the same story: “Always the banditos, the prostitute, the criminal, the thief — and, if you are good-looking, then you are the Don-Juan Latin lover; in other words, the womanizing liar. I was feeding that negative stereotype by the roles that I was choosing. So I realized that I was not being responsible as an actor I was just taking jobs only for the money and my career and the fame, not because I wanted to do something that had the potential to make a difference, and to elevate the dignity of Latinos in this country.”

No more, Monteverde has vowed. “I really want to clean that image in every film I do from today until I die. If there is going to be a Latino in the film, he will not be the bad guy. Even if he is the bad guy, I will change his nationality, because our culture is being affected way too much by all those characters… I’m not saying there is not bad things in my culture. There are bad things in every culture in the world. But there are so many beautiful things in our culture to offer the world that have never been explored. So I feel that I have a mission, a calling to show the other side of the coin.”

In José, Verástegui’s character in Bella, the filmmakers have exactly the sort of Latino hero they wish there were more of at the movies. Although flashbacks establish him as a rising star in his field, his career is derailed by a tragic turn of events, and his life takes another direction entirely. Yet in his humbler circumstances José finds opportunities for selflessness, service to others, and ultimately a breathtaking act of sacrificial love — a turn of events so remarkable that some viewers have had difficulty accepting that anyone would make such a choice, though the filmmakers insist it really happened. (Bella is not a “true story” in a straightforward sense, but it combines elements of several stories from the filmmakers’ lives.)

“I loved the fact that José was a man who had everything, he was at the top of the mountain in his career, he had the right things — and in one moment he lost it all,” said Verástegui. “But in losing it all, he found everything that really matter in life, which is faith and family. We see this guy completely different — more mature, more sensitive, living for others, patient. He learned how to listen, how to come outside of himself, to help other people. It’s not about him. He’s willing to sacrifice everything to help someone.”

“If I was more like José,” said Wolfington, “and if people in general were more like José, and selflessly sought to help others and to make this world a better place, I think the world would be a better place.”

As with the film’s pro-life resonances, the theme of faith in Bella is implicit, not overt. “In the background” is how Monteverde put it. While he didn’t want to make a religious film, “I did want to make it about where José was coming from — he was coming from a Catholic family. I wanted to show those people who wonder where this guy is coming from. We all come from our beliefs. It was important for me that this be in the film. When they have dinner, everyone does the sign of the cross — that was important to show that these characters come from a solid Catholic family that actually practices their faith. That’s why [in José’s parents’ house] you see the Virgin of Guadalupe and on the left you have Joséph. You see him outside the abortion clinic praying the rosary. God didn’t just send us into this world to try to be happy, God put us here to choose Him. His faith was something that sustained José. I wanted to show in a subtle way where his strength was coming from.”

As all of this suggests, even if the filmmakers do want their partnership to be just another production company in secular Hollywood, the name Metanoia (the Greek word for “conversion”) wasn’t chosen at random. Monteverde and Verástegui, like their business partners, are up-front about their own faith — something the filmmakers admit wasn’t always important to them.

“I am a very proud Catholic,” Monteverde said, “and I have been practicing my faith for the past couple of years. One problem that we have as Catholics is not the Church — it is Catholics themselves. We have such a rich, rich faith, and we don’t know it. I didn’t know it for many years. I didn’t go to church for many years, and I didn’t have the knowledge to really appreciate it. I realized that I was not obeying God. I didn’t live my life according to the teachings of the Church or of God. I was crying and I didn’t even know why. I realized that I was crying because I was trying to fill a hole — I felt empty, and I was trying to fill it with trash.”

Verástegui likened his own conversion to the experiences of his character José. “I had a transformation as well,” he said. “Even though I grew up Catholic, I didn’t practice very much my faith, because I wasn’t formed, so I didn’t know my faith very well. I was going to Mass, you know, once a year, and praying every night, I have my faith, I believe in God, but I didn’t really know my faith.”

Like José, Verástegui was a rising start in his own field prior to his conversion. At eighteen he began his career in show business as a member of the popular Latin American boy band Kairo. After that, he began acting in “the novelas, you know, soap operas in Mexico. Because as an actor you don’t have so many options over there. If you want to make a living as an actor [in Mexico], you either do soap opera or… soap opera. You’re stuck with that.”

Verástegui moved to Miami — ”the capital of Latin America,” he joked — and recorded a solo album. Then he went to Hollywood, did some more television, and made a feature film, Chasing Papi. Yet, despite a healthy career, he reported, “I wasn’t satisfied with anything. I was a guy who was completely lost. I realized that the reasons I wanted to be in this career were very superficial reasons. all about the fame, the money, the pleasures. I was seduced by this environment.”

Verástegui credits the grace of his conversion to his mother’s prayers. “I’m the oldest I have two younger sisters. My mother told my father one day, ‘Our son is very rebellious — he’s lost, he doesn’t listen to us any more, my words don’t touch his heart any more. But if my words don’t touch his heart, my prayers will touch his heart one day.’ And she became a warrior, a prayer warrior, and never gave up the hope that one day I would come back, just like the prodigal son.”

That day finally came, Verástegui said, when a friend, his English tutor, began calling him on what he believed and how he was living. “She started asking me questions: ‘What’s the purpose of life? Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why do you want to be an actor? Why are you doing these films? If you’re promoting all these lies…’ She started asking me all these questions, and knocked me off my horse, and I saw everything.”

Struggling with his new-found religious awareness, Verástegui turned to a priest friend, Legionary Father Juan Rivas. “I told him that all these things I was going through, I did my first real confession, and he gave me some books.”

One book that Verástegui particularly credits with his deepening faith was Scott and Kimberly Hahn’s conversion story, Rome Sweet Home. “That’s the book that sent me to Mass every day,” he acknowledged. “From once a year, then once a week, and after I closed the book, it was so real and it so impacted me in a very deep way, that after I closed the book, I said, ‘I will be with you, Lord, for the rest of my life every day.’ And I started going to Mass every day.”

There was just one problem: Verástegui was convinced that his new-found devotion was incompatible with his old career aspirations. “All of a sudden that became my purpose in life — to know and love God, and to grow in holiness. And I thought, ‘That’s impossible to do in Hollywood.’ ”

Going back to Fr. Rivas, Verástegui recalled telling him, “Father, I’ve solved everything. I’m giving up my career. This is a place I can’t survive.” Verástegui’s thought: to head for the mission field, possibly Brazil. “I want to go out into the jungle, to the Amazon, to discern what God wants from me. Because I need to clean all this dirt that I had in my soul for all those years. I don’t think he’s calling me to be a priest — maybe a cloistered monk. I have no idea. All I know is I’m ready to leave. I just want to ask you for your advice. What should I do? What do you think?”

Fr. Rivas was “the only priest I knew,” Verástegui said, “and he just laughed. He said, ‘No, no, no, you’re not going anywhere. We have plenty of missionaries over there in that jungle. But you know what, we have very few here in Hollywood. And this is a bigger jungle. Our Lord put you right there for a reason. You stay there.”

The upshot was that Verástegui stayed in Hollywood — but went years without accepting any work. “I wanted to tell stories,” he said, “and those stories need to have the potential not only to entertain but also to make a difference and touch people’s hearts and to light a candle in the audience.” Such stories, though, were few and far between. “Literally I didn’t even have money to pay my rent the next month, because for three years I couldn’t work at the things that were offered me… Now if I’m being faithful to God, and the other success comes, then it’s a blessing. Thanks be to God. But if it doesn’t come, you can never compromise your faith to obtain what the world thinks success is, because it doesn’t come from God.”

Eventually Verástegui recognized that, as an actor, he would never have the level of control he felt he needed. “As an actor you don't have so much power,” he said. “You have to submit yourself to the director, to the studio. I realized that the only way you can control the message is only if you become a producer. So I had two options: Either I'm going to be waiting until some offer comes to me that has the ingredients that I wanted to do, or I make my own film with the things that I wanted to do, which were very simple. It wasn't about me any more. It wasn’t about what I want, but what the Lord wants me to do.”

At the time, though, Verástegui was alone. “It was tough because at that time I didn’t know Alejandro, I didn’t know my business partners, I didn’t know anybody. I was completely by myself.”

At last, in 2004, at a weekday Mass, Verástegui met Leo Severino, an attorney working at Fox Entertainment, and Severino left his job at Fox to become Verástegui’s agent. Later, the two met Monteverde, and the “three amigos” together founded Metanoia Films.

For Verástegui, Monteverde’s script for Bella was worth the three-year wait. “The first time I read it, I fell in love, because I knew it was coming from a good place,” he said. “It was amazing working with someone who was on the same page. As an actor, it’s very frustrating when you don’t see material out there… it’s very hard to find a writer that is in Hollywood that is talented, that has skills, but at the same time has integrity and the same values.”

According to Monteverde, the feeling was mutual. “Working with [Verástegui] was a great experience because he is a great human being. It’s just amazing to work with people that have so much love for life. Not just love his own life but love for others. In taking that into consideration, he was able to bring that love for others into his own character and to his own character’s love for the other characters.”

In order to make Bella a reality, though, the amigos needed something else: partners with money. “So we’re like, ‘Okay, Lord, if you want us to be here in Hollywood and to make films to glorify You and to honor You, let’s do it,” said Verástegui. “If you don’t, and you want us to sell tacos in Mexico or whatever, so be it.”

How did they get the funding? Verástegui feels that a papal blessing — or two — from Pope John Paul IImay have been of assistance.

The invitation to come to Rome came from the actor’s friend Fr. Rivas, who called from Rome to ask how things were going. “I said, ‘Well, Father, we have the company, we have the script, everything is in place, but we don’t have the investors yet. And I’ve been turning down all these other projects.’ I’m telling the priest all these things, and he tells me, ‘Do you want to come to Rome and meet the Holy Father?’

“Next thing you know,” Verástegui continues, “I’m in front of the Holy Father, and I’m asking, ‘Holy Father, Please pray for us. We have a company called Metanoia Films, and pray for this mission.’ He gave me a blessing.”

Caught up in the emotion of the moment, Verástegui closed his eyes and started praying — still standing before the Pope. “He gave me a second blessing,” Verástegui said, admitting, “Then the bodyguards came and took me away. There were like eighty people behind me.”

The blessing (s) may have done the trick, though. It was only a little over a week later that they met the investors who financed the film. “They gave us the money, and we went to New York and we shot the film in 24 days over there. It was just a miracle really. It was amazing because everybody thought, ‘There’s no way you guys can produce the film. You’ve never made anything before.’ ”

Miracle or not, Bella did benefit from a number of happy accidents and coincidences that contribute to the effectiveness of the finished film. One of these involved a butterfly motif, which appears in the first half of the film in a key scene. At the end of the film, the butterfly motif reappears in a different form — seemingly intentionally, though Monteverde says it just happened. “The butterfly at the end of the movie — now the butterfly wraps the whole movie, but that was not in the script. It just happened magically — there was a guy with the butterfly.”

Another even more crucial departure occurred literally at the whim of a child. “We had a dialogue at the end of the film that was a good 20 minutes,” said Wolfington. “Beautiful dialogue, but probably kind of on the nose and preachy. Anyway, the five-year-old actress didn’t want to participate. She decided that she wanted to play. So that was out of our control. And we filmed her playing. She was doing cartwheels. And the cinematographer just asked Eduardo to do cartwheels with her and play with her on the beach.”

“She didn’t want to keep working,” recalled Monteverde. “She said, ‘I’m finished for the day. I want to go play and she run away from the set.’ I was in complete despair. I thought of firing her. I didn’t have the money to reshoot all the scenes with her. So I told the camera guy, ‘Just go shoot her playing shoot anything you can. Then I told Robert, ‘Just go play with her — see what happens, I give up.’ ”

The resulting scene, ironically, is perhaps the key to the film’s success. “At first I wanted to show their relationship through dialogue,” said Monteverde, “but I ended up just showing the relationship through playing — it just came through naturally and so it came out even better.”

Wolfington agreed. “Fortunately, things didn’t go the way we scripted them, because I think that particular scene helps make a positive impact at the end of the film more than if there was fifteen minutes of dialogue.”

One scene, of course, doesn’t make a film. Bella’s success ultimately rests on the achievements of the filmmakers, particularly with respect to the low-key script, Monteverde’s subtle storytelling style, and strong acting from the principals, especially Verástegui and leading lady Tammy Blanchard, whose outstanding performance as the troubled Nina is crucial to the film’s credibility.

Although the film leaves a great deal untold about its characters and their circumstances, and leaves viewers room to draw conclusions and inferences rather than spelling out everything, this approach only enhances the film’s emotional resonance. This is apparently characteristic of Monteverde’s philosophy of storytelling. “When you give too much information, you don’t feel as much,” he said. “In Bella, you don’t have a lot of information, but you feel.”

The makers of Bella feel strongly that a similar sense of restraint is necessary when dealing with troubling or problematic subject matter. “There’s ways to get the point across in a very effective and moving way,” Severino said. “Our only concern is to try not to do it in a way that our Lord himself wouldn’t do, a way that would violate the principles we believe.”

“We never want to use evil means to achieve good ends,” Wolfington concurred. “We don’t want to ask the actors and actresses on the set to compromise their values and integrity in order to show people falling. We don’t want to have the film lead people in the wrong direction because they’re excited and entertained about a scene that shows a man or a woman falling. just so we can show them getting back up. It’s not an easy rope to walk, and I admire anybody who tries to do it.”

This is not to say the filmmakers recommend avoiding troubling subject matter altogether. “We want to tell real stories about real people, and while we want to inspire people, we also want to entertain them,” said Wolfington. “Because it’s hard to inspire them if you can’t keep their attention and entertain them. We also want to promote love, but in real life sometimes it’s hard to see the candle if it’s already daytime. Sometimes the candle is that much brighter in the context of the dark. So if we’re going to keep it real, we want to show love but sometimes you have to show it in the context of opposite. We want to show hope, but sometimes it’s clearer in the context of despair. In real life, we’re not perfect people. So we fall. But we also want to show not just the fall but also the redemption.”

To seek success in Hollywood while sticking to one’s principles is a tall order, to say the least. “It’s a battle,” said Verástegui, adding, “In any other place, any other environment, it’s always going to be a battle — in politics, in Wall Street, in schools, in colleges, every place. It’s a battle between good and evil, and you have to choose which side you want to be.”

What’s next for Metanoia Films? Severino summed up the proposal in typical Hollywood pitch mode: “A period piece in the 1920s — Life is Beautiful meets Braveheart of Mexico, where 25,000 martyrs were made when a maniac got into power in Mexico and decided to make all freedom of speech and religion illegal.” The main character, Severino added, may be Blessed Miguel Pro. (The result might not be for all ages, but “we don’t want to go over the top with violence.”)

First, though, Metanoia has Bella’s theatrical release to think about. “Bella is not King Kong or Superman,” said Verástegui. “We don’t have these big budgets behind us. This is just a film with a small budget but with a lot of heart and soul. We believe in this so much because we feel this is a call from our holy father John Paul II. We just want to show it to everybody.”

For all their enthusiasm about Bella and future projects, the filmmakers maintain a sense of perspective. Mindful of Mother Teresa’s maxim about faithfulness and success, they regularly downplay the significance of the past or future successes. More than once, and by more than one party, the theoretical possibility of every print of Bella being destroyed and the film never being seen again was cited as a way of emphasizing that there are bigger issues than any one film.

Verástegui made the point this way. While preparing to shoot the film, he revealed, he made a fateful choice: to visit an abortion clinic as research for his role.

“I thought it was going to be very simple,” he said. “I was very naive. I thought I was going to arrive in the morning, with a few papers and a pen… Now, when I arrived that day, I forgot about the film. I was in shock when I saw all these fifteen, sixteen, seventeen-year-old young girls going in. Next thing I saw this little group of people outside, trying to convince them not to do it.”

Approaching the group, Verástegui found himself being asked to talk to a Latino couple who spoke no English. “I had no idea what I was going to say. I was very nervous,” he reported. Then the couple recognized him — from his soap opera roles. “They were from Mexico. Even though I did them ten years ago, they repeat them in television forever.”

Verástegui wound up talking to the couple for the better part of an hour, and gave the mother a miraculous medal. “We talked about life, faith, Mexico, dreams, about everything. I don’t even remember what I said. I gave her a little teddy bear. Next thing you know I said something and she was touched. And she leaves, and she didn’t go inside the clinic. So I told her the next day, ‘Hey, I’m here to help you, anything I can do to help you, if it’s money or whatever. Consider me your friend.’ ”

Shortly after that, Verástegui left for New York to shoot the film. “I came back a few months later,” he continued, “and I received a call. And it was this man who was with her. And he tells me, I have great news. My baby was born yesterday. And I want to ask your permission, because I want to call him Eduardo. And I couldn’t even talk, man.”

Verástegui went to the hospital to visit the couple and their new baby. “It was amazing. I went to the hospital and met the baby, and carried him in my arms — the way how he was looking at me, and I was calling him Eduardito, and I was singing, dancing with him. It changed my life completely. Because I didn’t plan to do that. I just thought I was going to do my research as an actor. I never thought that by the grace of God I was going be used as an instrument to say something to this young lady to touch her heart. And the next thing you know I’m dancing with Eduardito.

“If this film tomorrow disappears and it burns and nobody sees it again,” he concluded, “the fact that one baby is alive by the grace of God, I will rejoice in the Lord.”

Cultures of Life and Death



Juno (2007)

Yet it’s right around this point that Juno, which has been clever and insightful, unexpectedly reveals hidden layers of complexity and depth.


Bella (2006)

In the end, Bella has something to challenge everyone, pro-life or otherwise. For pro-lifers, the inspiring ending represents a call to love of neighbor. It isn’t enough just to oppose abortion: We are called to love those in need with the love of Christ, potentially at a cost to ourselves. For those who favor abortion, the ending represents a challenge to recognize that life is a beautiful and precious gift even in far from ideal circumstances, and the choice to embrace life, even when it involves great sacrifice, is also beautiful.