Spend just a few moments talking with Eduardo Verastegui and you quickly learn that he’s a man with a mission: to make films that shed light on humanity, that educate, engage and inspire people. Bella is the first step in that mission.
Eduardo was kind enough to talk with me in the middle of a busy day promoting Bella. He had just flown to New York City from Mexico, where the film premiered.
“My family had already seen the film before we did the Spanish captions. My mother, who doesn’t speak English, watched the film with tears streaming down her face. I was very excited to see her reaction when she saw the dialogue in her own language. She was so moved - that made me very happy.”
Eduardo’s mother was a consistent and stabilizing force in his life, someone he knew prayed for him on a regular basis. “When I was a teenager, I decided to try to make it in entertainment. I was part of a ‘boy band’ that made it big in Mexico. We sold out stadiums with thousands of screaming fans.
“I knew also that I wanted to act, but in Mexico your choices are pretty limited. So I auditioned for, and got, some roles on Mexican soap operas (telenovelas). They were a hit, and I became a star in Mexico.”
However, being a star in Mexico and translating that to the American entertainment industry are two different things. Eduardo decided to take a big chance and go to the United States to attempt to break into the film industry here.
“I had made one film, ‘Chasing Papi,’ that was the first Latino-focused film in Hollywood. I didn’t speak any English, and I knew that if I wanted to succeed, I needed to know the language and understand what was going on around me. I began taking English lessons with a woman that I now believe was an angel sent from God.
“After I had been studying with her for a while, she began to ask me questions like, ‘Eduardo, what are you doing to make your life meaningful? Who is God in your life? Does He have any meaning to you, and does it impact your life? What are you doing to make a difference?’”
These questions began to weigh heavily on Eduardo, and he realized the emptiness of his life. “I was having still having fun, but I was empty and not happy.” In the words of one of his business partners, Eduardo is “Mexico’s Brad Pitt,” and yet he was not at peace with his life.
“I made a decision to go live in a monastery, just give my life. So, I sold everything and went to talk to a priest. I told him and my family that I was going to go be a missionary in South America.
“He said, ‘No, you’re not going anywhere.’ I was surprised because I thought he was going to be happy and support me. But he said, ‘You stay here. Don’t run away. If God opened your eyes in Hollywood, maybe it’s because he wanted you to do something there. I don’t know what, but let’s figure it out.'”
Eduardo began going to church daily to pray and seek the Lord. That’s where he met Leo Severino, his production partner. The two met in the parking lot of the church and began talking about why they were there and what they were praying about. Making that connection was a turning point for Eduardo.
“I’m so thankful for this angel God sent to me, because my life turned around after that. Leo and I, and Alejandro formed our company Metanoia Films. It means a conversion, or turning toward God. That is what has happened in my life. Everything I do, I want to glorify Jesus Christ, because he is the way.”
When Eduardo speaks about his faith, it is with an infectious passion that tells you it comes from some place very deep within. As busy as he has been promoting the film, he is not too busy to take time very day to seek the Lord’s direction in prayer. It is what the business partners do every day to keep themselves grounded and make decisions for their company.
“We saw many different scripts for films, but nothing was anything we wanted to make. So one day Alejandro told us, ‘I have this story,’ and he told us the story that was Bella. It was amazing to hear it from him, and the film is not very different than the original story idea he had. It was a beautiful story and we knew it would make a beautiful film.
“Usually when you make a film, you are shooting each scene many times to get just the right feel and the right lighting. We didn’t have the time or money to do that, so we shot it as we went. There weren’t very many scenes that we filmed more than once, so we had to be very intent to make everything right the first time. That was a challenge, but I think it also made us concentrate harder, and make every word count.
“We were shooting in New York, and so it was a little crazy sometimes, setting up for a scene and hoping that the people and traffic around would work with us. We’re very happy with the end result, and got it done in 24 days.”
Bella won first place at the Toronto Film Festival, which is not usually known for promoting family-friendly films. It was a huge surprise to veteran festival-goers to see the film win.
I asked Eduardo about one of the scenes toward the end of the film. The two brothers, who have been disagreeing all through the film, are at the restaurant. They’re sitting next to each other, talk a bit, then playfully nudge each others’ shoulders. I wondered if he and his own siblings had any rivalries that had been reconciled. Did that scene come from his own life?
“No, that didn’t come from my family. But I did have two really close friends in Mexico. They’re very well-known, and for several years have had a public disagreement. They wouldn’t talk with each other or do anything like that.
“But they both came to the premiere in Mexico. They wound up sitting close by each other, and after the movie was over, they made up and settled their disagreement. I was amazed! We hoped the main story of the film, that of Nina (Tammy Blanchard) keeping her baby, would have a positive effect, but didn’t realize how many other ways people would be inspired to make changes in their lives.
“I’m very excited about the stories we’ve heard, because I realize we accomplished what we wanted to do: inspire and entertain people. I’m very happy and excited about the results, and very thankful to God.”
When asked about future plans, Eduardo talks again about the direction of Metanoia Films. “We’ve had many people contact us about possible projects, but we want to be sure they meet our company’s guideline to make inspiring, educational, and entertaining films that people will see and then go to do something for others.
“Mother Teresa said something we have as a motto: ‘We’re not called to be successful. We’re called to be faithful to God. That is our success.’ That’s the kind of success I want to have in my life.”