‘Bella’ turns in highest per screen performance

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Bella, the movie, was financed and marketed by its makers when major studios passed on the project. But it’s already been given the top prize at the Toronto International Film Festival and been honored by the Smithsonian. And now it is reporting a gross of $1.3 million for its first weekend on only 165 screens.

On Sunday, the movie generated the highest average box office per screen, and it was No. 2 for the entire weekend, despite competing with other projects that occupied from 3,000-4,000 screens, officials said.

“In the season of horror films, Bella’s heartwarming true story offered a light in the darkness for audiences who helped turn their limited release into the No. 1 film for average box office revenue per screen,” according to a statement from supporters.

They said Bella grossed “an amazing” $1.3 million and the per screen average for the weekend was more than $8,000, the second highest for all films over the weekend.

The project was given the American By Choice Award and honored by the Department of Citizenship at the White House, even though it had been given a pass by all of the majors in the industry, prompting the makers to do their own financing and promotion.

Their work has been rewarded with multiple honors, including the Heartland Film Festival’s Crystal heart Award; Toronto’s top prize, the Peoples Choice Award which often is considered a bellwether for Oscar contention; the Legacy Award from the Smithsonian for its positive contribution to arts and culture, and the Tony Bennett Media Excellence Award, among others.

“The secret to Bella’s opening weekend was the passion and persistence of the first-time filmmakers and the organic support of thousands of people who pre-purchased tickets and adopted entire theaters on opening weekend,” according to a statement from supporters.

“Bella’s grass roots success is largely due to the zealous support by Latinos and the faith community who are starving for positive stories that celebrate the Latino culture and the power of family, friendship and love,” they said.

Officials said Bella had the No. 1 highest per screen average in America on Sunday, even though most films see a decline in ticket sales of 40 percent to 50 percent from Saturday to Sunday.

They also said Bella broke records set by other Latino themed films opening this year, including El Cantante starring Jennifer Lopez, and it finished in the Top 20 films for total gross despite having the fewest number of screens by a vast margin (165 vs. 3,000-4,000).

The film is about how one day in New York City changes three people forever. Eduardo Veragtegui, Tammy Blanchard and Ali Lander have life-changing experiences that reveal the “power of family, friendship and love in the face of the unexpected.”

It has deep-rooted support from artists, including Bennett, who gave an impassioned speech through his tears, calling it “an artistic masterpiece that every American must see.”

Verastegui, the son of a sugar cane farmer, found early success as a teenage recording artist, then starred in popular television shows. He later starred in the 20th Century Fox film “Chasing Papi.”

But wanting a project that would contribute positively to the entertainment community, he turned down other work and “literally didn’t know where he was going to find money for the next month’s rent when he found the ‘Bella’ script.”

Shot in just 24 days on a shoe-string budget, it also features Landry, the star of a series of television commercials and programs.

It tells the story of an international soccer star who is on his way to sign a multi-million dollar contract when events bring his career to an end. A beautiful waitress also discovers something about herself she’s not prepared to deal with. A simple gesture of kindness brings them together.