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Steve McEveety, producer of The Passion of the Christ, has a new movie: The Stoning of Soraya M.
BY Patrick Novecosky
Steve McEveety is
no stranger to controversy. The veteran producer of films like Bella,
and We Were Soldiers has worked with some of
the biggest names in Hollywood. But he’s also taken heat for projects like The
Passion of the Christ, which some groups charged as being
anti-Semitic and too violent for the screen, and An
American Carol, which lampooned liberals.
The latest project from McEveety’s
Mpower Pictures is more akin to The Passion. Filmed
in English and Farsi, The Stoning of Soraya M
stars Jim Caviezel and hits the big screen on June 26. Controversial in its own
right, it tells the true story of a Muslim woman unfairly accused of adultery
in a small Iranian village circa 1986. The film took second runner-up at last
fall’s Toronto International Film Festival, finishing just behind the
Oscar-winning megahit Slumdog Millionaire. Register
correspondent Patrick Novecosky spoke to McEveety from his office in Santa
Your father and uncle were in
the movie business, so you literally grew up in a Hollywood family. Was the
faith part of your upbringing?
I was brought up in a Catholic family, and we went to Mass every week. I went
to Catholic grammar school and high school, and then to Loyola Marymount, which
is a Catholic university. So I think it was drilled into me quite properly. I
ignored the Church for a while when I was young, then came back. The faith is
bred into you, and that foundation is always there. When it’s time to turn to
the spiritual side, you have a direction to go in.
You’ve worked on a number of
films with faith themes — Braveheart, Bella,
The Passion. What’s your definition of a
The essential aspect of any film
being good is that it’s entertaining. If you don’t have that, you don’t have
anything. After that, you can layer it with all sorts of cultural, personal or
moral opinions. That’s how films can lead people in all sorts of different
directions. They are layered with messages that people don’t realize are there.
For me, anything that shines a light on God is the right direction. The more
covert that light is, the more effective you might be.
My faith certainly has had an effect
on my work. How could it not? And part of it is chance — what doors are opened,
and what doors are closed. That’s God’s providence. I’ve been able to work on
some great movies and thankfully avoid others. I’ve been blessed.
Did you found Mpower in order to
make movies that appeal to a Christian audience?
Not really. My taste in art just
does that naturally. I make movies that appeal to me. All of my movies, with
the exception of The Passion of the Christ,
are not Christian films. The rest of them have Christian values in them — the
mention of God or the suggestion that there’s a higher being — because that’s
who I am. So I can’t avoid that; it’s going to come out in the films I have
How does the Christian faith fit
with your new movie, The Stoning of Soraya M?
A film is made by many filmmakers.
I’m one of several on this film. If you’d ask the director or the actors, you’d
get a different answer. For me, it’s a biblical film, a New Testament film.
Although it takes place in the
Muslim world, it’s a very Christian film. The title gives a bit of the story
away. The woman who is stoned to death in the film carries her cross, and she
carries it quite well. In the end, she is “crucified.” Her last detectable
words are to her God. So, in that regard, it’s very much a Jesus story. It may
never dawn on my fellow filmmakers, but that is very evident to me.
Many of the surrounding characters
are much like the ones that Christ confronted. There are good people; there are
bad people; there are people who denounce this woman and accuse her unfairly.
There’s a lot of commonality there. Soraya is really quite Christ-like, and
that’s what drew me to this film. But the movie is about much more than that.
It’s about a victim and bullies. In the course of our lives, we’ve all been
There are some striking
similarities to The Passion — the actor (Caviezel), the
location in the Middle East, the violence, the score by composer John Debney,
the foreign language. Was any of that on purpose?
really. I just loved the script and felt like the story must be told. Debney is
my buddy. I grew up with him. I brought him onto The Passion.
He’s absolutely one of the best composers in the world, and I got him to do
this film. It was a blessing.
We hired two high-profile actors for
the character Caviezel plays. Both accepted the part, and each one of them
decided three days later to drop the part. They were living in Europe, and
their families were concerned for the potential danger of playing the role. I
was set to go into production in three weeks, and I didn’t have an actor.
Caviezel is my buddy, and our kids go to the same school. I ran into him on the
day the second star backed out. I explained what happened, and he said, “Let me
read it.” So he read it and said, “I’ll do this part.” He turned out to be just
perfect for the role.
The director always wanted to do the
film in Farsi, the native language, so people would feel like they were really
there. And he was absolutely right. You experience this film rather than watch
Before The Passion and Slumdog
language films didn’t appeal to a mainstream audience in the U.S. Have they
opened doors for films like The
probably right. Movies are becoming more international. People here in the
United States are responding to international-themed films. The Stoning of Soraya M was the second runner-up at the Toronto Film Festival, which I was
pretty excited about. It was quite a feat in itself, but I was kind of
disappointed that we didn’t win. Some “stupid movie” called Slumdog Millionaire beat us. I didn’t know what that was at the time. Now I’m not feeling
so bad since it went on to win Best Picture and seven other Oscars.
Passion, I’m not aware of films in foreign languages made by
Hollywood filmmakers. I think it was one of the first. We have a different way
of making movies than Europeans do. Films done by Hollywood filmmakers in a
native language might be a little more accessible to an American audience.
You’ve screened The
Stoning for a number of groups — secular, Christian and
Muslim. What has the reaction been like?
It is way above normal in terms of
how people rate the film, but the personal reactions have been just incredible.
Across the board, people are stunned at the movie. I don’t know how many people
have told me it’s the most powerful film they’ve ever seen.
On the flip side, any time you make
a statement like this film does, you’re going to get people who disagree or are
upset or offended. About 4% or 5% are either angry with us, or the movie made
them angry, but there isn’t anyone who isn’t emotionally involved.
people can’t handle the stoning scene. They’ll close their eyes or leave, then
come back. But even those people thank me for making the movie. No matter what
people’s reactions were after seeing this movie, it’s stronger and more
positive two days later. It’s a movie that doesn’t leave you. If there are
movies you don’t forget in your life, I think this is one of them.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the funding to advertise, so we’re relying on word
of mouth and reviews. If we do well with both of those, the film will catch on.
What’s down the road for Mpower
and Steve McEveety?
We’ve got about 20 films in
development right now, including several family films. We just finished filming
one called Snowmen (Ray Liotta, Christopher Lloyd).
It’s fun and sweet. My dad worked at Disney, so I grew up around family films.
It’s a blast for me.
We’re also doing a movie on
spiritual warfare based on [Rwandan genocide survivor] Immaculée Ilibagiza’s
best-selling book Left to Tell. We have
a screenplay; we’re raising money, and we’re hoping to start shooting soon. We
really want to get into her soul and explore what she went through spiritually
to get to a point where she could forgive.