"Bella" Takes Center Stage

Thursday, November 15, 2007

An independent film garnering nationwide attention might not have gotten to the big screen without the help of Saint Joseph's University alum J. Eustace Wolfington '56, and his family.

Wolfington, president of Cabrini Asset Management, is one of the executive producers of the movie, Bella, which last year won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival. The movie opened in 165 theaters nationwide on Oct. 26. In its opening week, the film, made with a $3 million budget, was No. 2 in sales, on a per-theater basis, and No. 17 in overall sales, with $1.3 million in box office receipts.

Bella, which features little-known actors and a first-time director, Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, is the story of an immigrant chef (Eduardo Verastegui) and his experiences in a New York City restaurant and inevitable attraction to a waitress (played by Emmy winner Tammy Blanchard).

For Wolfington, the financing of the film depended on a series of gut decisions, handshake agreements and warm feelings -- all of which led to bankrolling the project in 2005. Other executive producers include Wolfington's wife, Marcy; his nephew, Sean Wolfington; and Sean's wife, Ana, a 2002 graduate of Saint Joseph's.

"They didn't even have a script done yet," Eustace said in a recent Philadelphia Business Journal article. "They had a short, which we watched. I was literally blown away. I don't know a thing about movies, but this blew me away. We shook hands and something inside me said, 'You gotta go with these guys.' We had no contract. It was absolute trust."

As with most independent films, it was crucial to make an impact on the film festival circuit. Bella was chosen from 4,000 films to be screened at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival, where it won the People's Choice Award, beating out "Babel" and "Last King of Scotland."

"It was like being a freshman in high school," said Eustace, who co-owns the One Media Group and is also a partner in Metonia Films. "And then to win Toronto, when five days earlier we were nobody … incredible."

More information on the movie and the Wolfington's can be found at www.bellathemovie.com.

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