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Made on a Shoestring Budget and Faith
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.




BELLA (not rated yet, PG-13): José (Eduardo Verástegui, CSI: Miami) is a Mexican soccer star who kills a child in an accident, resulting in his imprisonment for manslaughter. When he gets out, José works in his brother Manny’s (Manny Perez, Third Watch) restaurant in New York.

Manny fires a pregnant, troubled waitress named Niña (Tammy Blanchard, The Good German) for being late. Seeing her anguish, José follows her, leaving his work behind and his brother in the lurch. What follows are revelations, touched by gentle humor, about loneliness, family, life, dignity, humanity, empathy and great kindness.

Bella was made on a shoestring budget, directed and co-written by relative newcomer Alejandro Gomez Monteverde. He teamed with Verástegui and producers Sean Wolfington, Leo Severino and Eustace Wolfington to make this movie and form Metanoia Films. Although Steve McEveety (The Passion of the Christ) declined to be part of the project early on, he later became executive producer. Verástegui is also an acclaimed recording artist who starred in popular Spanish soap operas on Televisa.

Bella won the 2006 People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, was screened at the White House and has been recognized by the Smithsonian Institution. This independent road-trip film not only journeys from Manhattan to Long Island but also travels light-years in terms of the inner lives of the characters, the choices they make and the consequences; mature themes.



TRADE (L, R): Ray (Kevin Kline, The Emperor’s Club) is an insurance detective from Texas who forms a close bond with Jorge (Cesar Ramos), a Mexican teen whose sister, Adriana (Paulina Gaitan, Innocent Voices), has been kidnapped by sex traffickers.

Adriana is among the youngsters to be auctioned as sex slaves through the Internet. The most powerful and brilliantly acted scene is when Adriana is reunited with her mother.

This significant film calls attention to a contemporary human crisis of immense proportions. This year is the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in British and French territories (as told in Amazing Grace, another film released earlier this year).

According to the U.S. State Department, human trafficking and slavery are more pervasive than ever, with about 800,000 men, women and children trafficked across international borders for sex and labor each year. It is believed that one third of the 14,500 to 17,500 who are trafficked into the United States annually are children. (For more information on how you can help stop global 21st-century slavery, visit the Web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services,

NBC’s Dateline has been covering the global sex-slave trade for several years. Despite heroic efforts on the part of nonprofit organizations and government agencies, there are few happy endings.

Like Lifetime’s 2005 miniseries Human Trafficking, starring Mira Sorvino (available on DVD), Trade is a disturbing film that will have limited appeal because it isn’t entertaining. Trade tries to get our attention about a grave social ill. Although a rape scene shows only the victim’s face, it is terrifying. Trade was well-received by audiences at this year’s Sundance Film Festival but critics were less obliging. Low production qualities create a gritty feel. The barren landscape is, perhaps, a metaphor for the invisible degradation that rampant human trafficking creates in the soul of the world. Disturbing sexual material involving minors; violence, problem language and some drug content.

THE PRICE OF SUGAR (unrated): Oscar-winner Paul Newman narrates this jarring and inspiring documentary that follows Father Christopher Hartley, a Spanish priest in the Dominican Republic. His parishioners are mostly Haitian workers who have been smuggled illegally across the border, where they harvest sugarcane under terrible conditions.

Father Hartley and others effect some enduring changes: The guards no longer carry weapons, illegal trafficking of workers seems to have stopped in his parish, workers are paid in cash and can leave the plantation (although they are subject to arrest if found without identity cards).

One hundred percent of Dominican sugar exports end up in U.S. markets. According to the filmmakers, American taxpayers subsidize the price paid to Dominican companies. In 2006, the United States paid 43 percent more for Dominican sugar than the price of sugar on the world market.

I was most impressed by Father Hartley’s vocational story, his love and commitment to the priesthood and his role as pastor. As the eldest son of the heir to the British Hartley Jelly company and a Spanish aristocrat, Father Hartley recounts his journey to the priesthood, including 25 years working for poor people in Calcutta with Blessed Mother Teresa.

In a phone interview, Father Hartley told me that, as a seminarian, he hadn’t understood the meaning of the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World), but when he got to the Dominican Republic, its meaning became clear.

Despite threats on his life, he could do what he did for his people because it was the true and right thing to do. (Father Hartley is now a missionary in Ethiopia.)

According to Cane, CBS’s new Tuesday-night Godfather-like dramatic series starring Jimmy Smits, “Sugar is the new oil.”

The Price of Sugar was directed by Bill Haney (A Life Among Whales). The executive producers include Tim Disney, great-nephew of Walt Disney. The film informs viewers about human-rights violations that are almost invisible. It inspires and illumines the meaning of Catholic social teaching by showing exactly what it means to put the gospel into practice and empower the poor and stateless. Intriguing, heartbreaking, informative and hopeful; intense, mature themes make it appropriate for teens and adults.

GOD’S WARRIORS: CNN’s renowned reporter Christiane Amanpour leads viewers across four continents over a year’s time, to explore the world’s three major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The three-part series aired in August and is now available on DVD by phoning Voxant at 866-681-NEWS ($59.90, plus shipping).

VIVA LAUGHLIN (CBS, Sundays): When Ripley Holden (Lloyd Owen) is building a casino in Laughlin, Nevada, he turns to the shady Nicky Fontana (Hugh Jackman) for financing when one of his partners dies under suspicious circumstances. Based on a successful BBC show (Viva Blackpool), this is an interesting mix of family drama, mystery and, of all things, music: The characters hop onto blackjack tables and start singing.

Jackman is also executive producer, and Melanie Griffith has a recurring role as a kind of grand dame of Laughlin’s secret side. The series is original, for sure, and kind of corny, which may be its saving grace.

LASSIE’S PET VET (American Public Television, check local listings): This charming reality-documentary series, featuring the famous collie that starred in the 2005 film Lassie, is tailor-made for pet lovers, from the very young to the very old.

Dr. Jeff Werber, D.V.M., vet to pets of celebrities, talks gently to the audience about pet health, nutrition and behavior. He uses brief news and reality segments that will hold short attention spans. Teachers can visit for lesson plans.

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE (A-3, PG-13): After 18 years on television, the animated family has arrived in theaters with a message about the environment. Homer (voice of Dan Castellaneta) makes a selfish and stupid choice that causes an ecological disaster in Springfield. Just before the town and all the people are to be obliterated from the face of the earth by the government to prevent the environmental disaster from spreading, Marge (Julie Kavner) and the kids save the day. The film is a winner for Simpsons fans and mildly entertaining for others. Lots of innuendo and cheeky references.

BRATZ: The Movie (A-2, PG) is directed by Sean McNamara, who discovered mega-star Hilary Duff and has an impressive résumé that includes Disney after-school television productions. This lame tween flick follows four girlfriends as they navigate their first year of high school. The actors are earnest enough but, because the plot is spun from the line of fashion dolls (by the same name), the film is just stylistically superficial. Good-hearted but forever teaching a shopper lifestyle that’s adorned and driven with consumer values.

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (A-3, PG- 13): Matt Damon’s relentless pursuit of his identity is continued in part three of the Jason Bourne franchise, based on the espionage/conspiracy novels of the late Robert Ludlum. Bourne chooses the high road when he faces mastermind Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney) from the covert government operation that condemned him to a life of violent amnesia. Breathless; includes action violence.

A-1 General patronage
A-2 Adults and adolescents
A-3 Adults
L Limited adult audience
O Morally offensive

USCCB Movie Review Line: 1-800-311-4222,

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