Movie's Pro-Life Message Connects With Viewers

By  Tony Gosgnach, Catholic Register Special
  • February 22, 2008

{mosimage}HAMILTON, Ont. - A movie much anticipated by Canada’s pro-life community because of its life-affirming message is set to make its debut in this country after having an impact south of the border.

Bella is a production of Metanoia Films and is promoted as “a heartwarming story about friendship, family and our capacity for love in the face of the unexpected.” The movie tells an unconventional story about a young unmarried woman who finds out she is pregnant and her friend who makes sacrifices for her and convinces her to have the baby.

The female character, Nina (Tammy Blanchard), is an unwed restaurant waitress who gets fired from her job the morning she confirms she’s pregnant, only to have the restaurant’s best cook, Jose (Eduardo Verástegui), abandon his own duties and hang out with her throughout the day, giving the young woman emotional support and gently trying to persuade her to keep the baby. 

Released last Oct. 27 in the United States, the movie has grossed $7.7 million on a production budget of $3.3 million and has drawn rave viewer reviews, although those of critics have been less kindly.

At the popular BoxOfficeMojo.com movie web site, Bella was ranked third among users for all films released in 2007, while achieving 79-per-cent “A” grades. At another prominent movie site, RottenTomatoes.com, the film received a 96-per-cent approval rating from users. Leading critics are giving the movie just a 35-per-cent approval rating, however, calling it “a sweet, but ultimately pedestrian, drama.”

According to producer Leo Severino, Bella is scheduled for release between the middle of March and the first week of April in virtually every major city in Canada, including Toronto, where it captured the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival.

The response so far has been “just amazing,” he said. “It’s been blowing away expectations for such a tiny film on such a small budget. … It’s going strong. We’re opening markets as late as Feb. 28, from what I understand, in the U.S.”

Severino was in Hamilton Feb. 14 and 15 for special pre-screenings of Bella for Hamilton Right to Life and 180 students attending the Fourth Annual Culture of Life Student Leadership Conference. He also addressed the conference about the impact of the media and the purpose of life.

Metanoia Films is dedicated to use the media in a way that can inspire, uplift people and uphold human dignity, said Severino. To that end, he has pledged to never produce material that would be offensive to God and asked the conference attendees to make a similar commitment in terms of the media material to which they expose themselves.

“There’s a lot of stuff out there that’s going to keep you from knowing and loving God,” he told them. “Be careful with what you hear and watch.”

In the wake of other recent films with life-affirming messages, including Juno, Waitress and, more subtly, Knocked Up, Severino said he is hoping for a strong opening weekend so that his movie will be able to expand to other theatres.

“Success is going to breed success .… That’s what happened in the U.S. The better the film did in weeks one and two, the more theatres we got. We expanded all the way to almost 500 theatres. So that’s the hope in Canada as well.”

Severino said the film  “has the potential to touch many hearts and to transform, if not save, many lives.” He added it is known that at least 13 women have so far opted to cancel scheduled abortion appointments after viewing the movie.

“That’s the beauty of working with people who are on board with the same mission — we want to make films that not only entertain, but also engage, inspire and make a difference in a positive way. If the U.S. is a gauge of some of the fruits that are possible with this film, then literally, lives can be saved in Canada, if this film gets out to a broad audience.”

Depending on the success of Bella, Metanoia Films hopes to produce more movies that have a positive message.

“We’re in development on a couple of films right now, but our focus, because we’re so in love with Bella and this project, is to stay with Bella all the way through international and DVD distribution and then focus on the next one after that. There are hopefully many more (films) coming, but it’s all dependent on how this thing does internationally and on DVD.”

More information and updates on Bella are available at the web site www.bellamoviesite.com.

Culture of Life Student Leadership Conference co-chair Joanne Matters said her event was “a huge success” that has gotten bigger and better each of its four years. Aimed at bringing the message of respect for life from conception to natural death to high school students, the conference allows student leaders to spend a full day focusing on the issues.

“We’re hoping this becomes a diocesan event in the future and we’re working towards that,” she said. “The teachers, educators and chaplains that bring the kids each year are excited about what they’re able to bring the students here to learn and what, in turn, the students are able to bring back to the schools.”

(Gosgnach is a freelance writer in Hamilton, Ont.)

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