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The Beauty of "Bella" | An Interview with Tim Drake,
author of Behind Bella | November 10, 2008 | Ignatius Insight
Tim Drake is an
award-winning journalist, a senior writer with both the National Catholic
Register and Faith and
Family magazine, and the
author of several books. His most recent book is Behind Bella: The Amazing
Stories of Bella and the Lives it's Changed, published by Ignatius Press. Carl E. Olson, editor of
Ignatius Insight, recently spoke with Drake about the book and Bella, the movie that
It's a beautiful book.
Tim Drake: Yes, it
is; it's a very beautiful book. The film was beautiful and the book is a
beautiful companion piece to the film.
Ignatius Insight: Is
this a good time for me to admit I've not yet seen the film?
Tim Drake: [Laughs]
That is shocking! [More laughter] Actually, I've talked to a lot of people who
haven't seen it.
Ignatius Insight: Well,
my wife saw it. She saw it with a group of ladies. And I planned on seeing it
in the theater, but it was only in theaters here for a while. Anyhow, I plan to
see it on video soon. Anyhow, how did the idea of this book come about? What
Tim Drake: The first
story I ever wrote on Bella was shortly after it won the Toronto International
Film Festival's "People's Choice Award" back in 2006. The National Catholic
Register had asked me to take a look at this little film and what it
was about and what it was doing because it was certainly a surprise win, and a
life-affirming film. So that was my first connection with the film.
I talked to one of the producers and financiers of the film,
Sean Wolfington, about a lot of the background of what went into the film and
how it had come together, which was an amazing story. That story then led to
about four or five more stories that I wrote for the Register as the film was
trying to find a distributor, as it found a distributor, and then opened in theaters
in the fall of 2007.
In January (of 2008), Ignatius Press contacted me, knowing
that the DVD of the film was coming out, and they had talked to the director,
the producer, and the lead actor, Eduardo, and they had come up with a
behind-the-scenes book, a coffee-table book for the movie, but also a book that
would look at some of the results of the impact of the film, of how it had
changed people's lives. They contacted me because they were familiar with the
articles I had written and asked if I had an interest in the book, and I said,
"Yes, I would."
I set to work on the project and discovered that while I
knew some of the stories, I didn't know all of them. And the more I heard these
stories, the more I was amazed at how the film came together and how these
principal people involved got connected with one another. But also the impact
the film had on them, and the impact the film had on the primary actors, and
the impact the film had on those who saw it. So the book tells a beautiful
story, with beautiful pictures. And that's how it came to be.
Ignatius Insight: Looking
through the book, it seems that it is a story, in part, of how art changes
lives, not just the finished film, but the actual making of the work of art.
You mentioned various things that happened and came together in the making of
the film that had a providential quality to them. What were some of those?
Tim Drake: One was
how the producer, Leo Severino, came to meet the actor, Eduardo Verįstegui.
Eduardo, of course, had been known as a popular soap opera actor who was living
the playboy lifestyle. Through a language coach, who was helping him to learn
English, he had a reversion back to the Catholic faith, and he started
attending daily Mass. It was at daily Mass that Leo first spied Eduardo, who
was standing by a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with his hand on the
Heart and his head bent over in prayer. And Leo made the mental note that here
was a young and handsome man who was a daily Mass-goer and who he should talk
to. But he didn't talk to Eduardo at that time because Eduardo was in prayer.
Some weeks went by and Leo saw him again at Mass and he
planned on talking to him after Mass. But after Mass a woman began talking to
Leo before he could get to Eduardo—she was asking for some restaurant
recommendations—and so he was delayed in leaving the church. But as he
left the church, there was Eduardo again praying by the statue; he was praying
for direction in his life, praying for direction in filmmaking and his career.
Again, Leo didn't want to interrupt him, so he went outside. As it happened,
the woman who had talked to him had parked behind Leo's car so closely that he
couldn't get out, so he was delayed in leaving. He had to get back to work, so
he went out a different way, and as he was leaving the parking lot, Eduardo
walked in front of him. So he rolled down his widow and started up a
conversation. They actually spoke in Spanish with one another, and that was
really the initial connection for those two.
Another incident that most people don't know about involved
the lead actress, Tammy Blanchard, who played Nina. She wasn't the first choice
for Alejandro Monteverde, the director, but she really felt that the part was
written for her because she had grown up in a family that had struggles similar
to those portrayed in the film, and so she felt the role was meant for her. So
she really advocated to Alejandro for the role, and I think she filled that
role well. But what's amazing is that after the film she became pregnant and
she said that before the film she wouldn't have known what to do—she
couldn't see herself as a mother, thinking it was pointless to have children.
After making the film and interacting with the young girl who was Bella in the
film, she realized what a life was, and so she ended up giving birth to Ava
Jean, her daughter. So that is, I think, another very providential story from
Ignatius Insight: There
is a section in the book about people who saw the film and whose lives were
really touched. There have apparently been a number of children who parents
have said that they wouldn't have been born except for the influence of the
Tim Drake: Yes,
that's right; they call them "Bella babies." That's in the third section of the
book, which is titled, "New Life". The first fruit, as the Metanoia team calls
him, is baby Eduardito, and that is the baby boy whose life was saved even
before the film was made. Eduardo went to a crisis pregnancy center to do
research for his role in the film. And while he was there a couple came up to the
crisis pregnancy counselors who were standing outside—this was actually
an abortion business—and there were pro-life folks there praying and
trying to do sidewalk counseling. And this couple came up and spoke
Spanish—and no one in the group knew Spanish. So the couple was brought
over to Eduardo. Because they recognized him from his soap opera days in
Mexico, there was a connection between them. And he was able to talk to them
and they talked about faith, and family, and food, and all these other things.
They talked for so long the couple missed their appointment to go into the
abortion business. A few weeks later Eduardo went out to New York to do the
filming for the movie, and after the movie was done, he returned home and
received a call from this young man telling him that they had had a son, and
they wanted to name him Eduardo. He tells that story, as it being the first
fruit of Bella.
And now the producers are aware of at least 21 children who
were born because of the film in some way, shape, or form. Those are just the
ones they are aware of—young women who were in crisis pregnancies and saw
the film and ended up choosing to either place their child for adoption, or to
have and keep the child. I spoke to one young woman in New Hampshire, Leigha
Lawrence, who had been in college and had her life planned out and then
discovered she was in a crisis pregnancy. She didn't know what to do; she ended
up going with her boyfriend to an abortion business for a counseling session,
and they gave her the options—adoption, abortion, keeping the baby—and
she wasn't certain what to do. Thankfully, she ended up connecting with a
crisis pregnancy counselor, Kelly Roy, through Operation Outcry. Kelly
suggested she go see Bella, and that was on opening weekend, and Leigha went
and told me that watching the film was like watching her own life on the
screen. It really impacted her. She knew that she couldn't place her baby for
adoption; she and her boyfriend decided to raise their child and they ended up
getting married. Earlier this year they had a daughter, Isabella, whom they
call "Bella" for short.
Ignatius Insight: Despite
all of the critical and commercial success of the film, there have been some
strong criticisms of Bella from some Catholics. Is that
surprising to you that some have argued that the film isn't actually pro-life,
that they say it is morally ambiguous at best?
Tim Drake: Yes, some
have said that from a pro-life perspective, Bella might be
ambiguous. Well, here is my argument about that. The film is a pro-love film;
it is a pro-adoption film. And my argument would be that any film that supports
adoption is pro-life. I say that from my own life. I was threatened in the womb
by abortion; I essentially was adopted. Sure, you can criticize the film from
an artistic perspective, as you can any film. But I cannot look at this film
and think it isn't pro-life. It wrestles with the very questions that any young
woman struggling with a crisis pregnancy wrestles with.
Ignatius Insight: I
was struck by some of the comments from the makers of Bella, indicating that
they weren't trying to make a religious film, per se, or a
overtly pro-life film—as a sort of polemical or didactic
statement—they recognized the limits and nature of art, which isn't
necessarily to make such statements.
Tim Drake: I talked
to Alejandro about this, and he was very adamant in saying the idea that this
film was pro-life was in many ways an afterthought, because he set out to make
a film that would celebrate Hispanic culture and Hispanic life and Hispanic families.
He called it a pro-love film that portrays sacrificial love. When they started
showing rough cuts of the film around the country, people would come up and
say, "Wow, we in the pro-life movement have been praying for tools that can be
used in the battle for life, and this film is a wonderful tool." I think they
were surprised, in fact, by the reaction at first. Because, as I say, they
didn't originally set out with that intention.
Even though they didn't set out to make a movie that was
didactic, we know that every sort of artwork—a painting, a film, a poem,
a song—does convey a message. It's amazing that this is the message that's
being portrayed through this very artistic film. Most movies, when you walk out
of them, you think, "That was entertaining," but it doesn't stick with you for
very long. How many movies can you say have an eternal value, as this film
does, resulting in at least 21 babies who exist because of it?
Ignatius Insight: And
it shows the need for good art, good films, that make people see the world
differently and make them think about things of eternal value. We've been a bad
place for a lot of years as far as Catholic art—or art made by Catholic,
however it might be described—is concerned.
Tim Drake: What we
might be seeing is the beginning of a new renaissance in Catholic art. I was
just at the new Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and I
was struck by what I would describe as contemporary art that was done
reverently and well. In particular, the paintings in the Shrine itself and the
tile work outside on the Rosary Walk are amazing examples of this new
renaissance. I thought it was stunning.
Ignatius Insight: This
is a unique book for Ignatius Press. What are some of the goals in producing
such a book?
Tim Drake: The book
was written to be a companion piece to the DVD. But what has happened, and what
is really interesting to Ignatius Press and myself as the author, is that
crisis pregnancy centers have really fallen in love with the book. Many are
taking it and placing it in their waiting rooms, on the tables, so that young
women or men are waiting, they can flip through it, see the beautiful pictures,
and perhaps be drawn in to the story. A lot of the centers are also utilizing
the film by playing it in the waiting room, or making it available to those who
come in for counseling, so they can take it home and watch it in the privacy of
their own home. So this is something, I think, is something Ignatius Press
didn't expect, but it is happening. There is also a whole side effort, a
non-profit, called "Bella Hero," which is trying to obtain financial donations
to help make the book and DVD available to crisis pregnancy centers that might
not be able to afford it. I think it is a wonderful testament to how the book
is being used.
Ignatius Insight: Any final thoughts?
Tim Drake: It would
just be to highlight the stories in the book: they tell of what can happen when
we say "Yes" to God. For each of these individuals who were involved with the
film—and you could even say myself getting on board with this book
project—this project didn't always make sense. "Why get involved?" might
have been the initial thought of a lot of these folks. But yet there was the
powerful feeling that this was something that God was asking of them. So I
think that just as Mary's "Yes" two thousand years ago had eternal
consequences, so does our "Yes," when we are being asked to do something that
perhaps doesn't make sense to us fully. When I interviewed the people involved
with the film and they told me, again and again, these stories about how they
got involved and how they agreed to the project although it didn't make sense,
I think that is the thing that really stands out to me.
Tim Drake is an award-winning journalist and author. He serves as senior writer with both
the National Catholic Register and Faith and Family magazine, and was a key journalist in covering Pope Benedict XVI's
April 2008 visit to the U.S., as well as World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia in summer 2008.
Behind Bella is Tim's fourth book. He has previously published There We
Stood, Here We Stand: 11 Lutherans Rediscover their Catholic Roots (AuthorHouse, 2001), Saints of the
2002), "Young and Catholic: The Face of Tomorrow's Church" (Sophia
Institute Press, 2004).
Tim has published more than 600 articles in publications including
the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Faith and Family magazine, Catholic World Report, and many others. He's also been a guest
on both television and radio, including Vatican Radio, Fox News, EWTN, and a
variety of other nationwide radio programs.
Tim's writing awards include: Metro Right to Life Writing Award -
6th place (2000); Ex Corde Ecclesiae Award from the Cardinal Newman Society for
significant contributions to the renewal of Catholic higher education (2003);
Bernardin-O'Connor Award from Priests for Life for Pro-Life Journalism for best
pro-life news story (2003); The Aquinas Senior Fellow Award from the University
of St. Thomas, in recognition of his continuing dedication to the integration
of vocation and professional excellence (2006); Special Honorable Mention,
National Right to Life 11th Annual Excellence in Journalism Award (2008).
Tim serves on the board of directors for the Mater Ecclesiae Fund
for Vocations and is a member of the advisory board for the National Conference
of Diocesan Vocation Directors.
He graduated from the University of Minnesota, Morris, with a
bachelor's degree and social science teaching certificate in 1989. Tim resides
in Saint Joseph, Minnesota with his wife and five children.
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