Except for the first couple of months of his life, Stephen McEveety has lived a Catholic life.
“Well, I can’t count those first weeks because it was before I was baptized,” he joked. “But I was raised in a big Catholic family, attended Catholic schools and send all my kids to Catholic schools.”
The California native and movie producer takes his faith but not himself seriously as he describes himself as the father of “four great brats,” ranging in age from 14-23, and husband to Susie for more than 30 years.
McEveety’s latest film is no laughing matter. “The Stoning of Soraya M.” comes on the heels of an extensive career of award-winning films such as “Braveheart,” “We Were Soldiers,” “The Passion of the Christ,” “Bella,” “An American Carol,” and the comedy, “What Women Want.”
The film, based on the book of the same name and inspired by events that took place in 1986 during the reign of Ayatollah Khomenini, tells the story of Soraya, a woman who lived with a womanizing, abusive husband for 20 years.
In his quest to leave her for a 14-year-old girl, the husband turns her two sons against her and ignores his daughters as if they do not exist. When she refuses to divorce him, he falsely accuses her of adultery. She is tried and convicted. The villagers in the small Iranian town bind her arms and legs, bury her up to her waist and bombard her with rocks for hours until she bleeds to death.
Only her aunt, Zahra, is brave enough to stand up for her and speaks out against this atrocity. She unexpectedly meets up with a passing journalist played by Jim Caviezel (“The Passion of the Christ”) when he stops in the village to get his car repaired.
After weaving him through the story, which he puts on tape, she unravels the political components that combined to make this tragedy happen the day before he arrived.
While McEveety hopes the film will shed light on the existence of stoning practices in the world, he also explains that the corruption and injustice issues go far beyond such practices.
“I am hoping that it will serve as a mirror for victimizers, who regularly abuse women or children all over the world,” he said. “I think that certainly someone in an abusive relationship will take one thing from the film that no one else would take – especially about the role of victims, particularly women as victims. For some reason, this movie gives them some kind of meaning to their experience.”
For others, McEveety hopes that a message that violence and injustice cannot be tolerated.
“The movie is quite deep in terms of what people will take from it,” he said. “It was made by a group of artists and, except for Jim (Caviezel), the entire cast is of Iranian or American Iranian decent.”
A lesson is to be learned from each movie McEveety works to produce and as his films have evolved, his life has changed as well.
“The Stoning of Soraya M.” is in limited theatres, but McEveety urges those interested in the film to call their local theatres to request they show the film.
“I was exploring a world that I didn’t know a whole lot about and it affected me,” he admitted. “Movies like this explore the tragedy of what people’s lives can be given different circumstances. It is my responsibility as a Catholic and as a human to positively influence people in my movies. I am kind of a Christ-driven guy so I lean toward finding ways to promote Christian values. Sometimes you won’t directly recognize this and other times, it is right in your face.”
This film followed a lull in production, and McEveety picked up the screenplay written by Cyrus Nowrasteh and couldn’t put it down.
“It blew me away and after I finished it, my first question was ‘who would make this movie?’ and ‘who would distribute it?’” he said. “Our company is about this type of thing, so I looked at myself and said, ‘well, we will try to do it.’ So we raised the money and were off and running with it.”
“The Stoning of Soraya M.” took 18 months to film on location in the Middle East. As soon as production was completed, it was entered in the Toronto Film Festival where it took second place. It recently earned coveted first place in the Los Angeles Film Festival.
“It is great to be recognized,” admitted McEveety, who often turns projects away that conflict with his faith. While his movies can be quite violent, the violence is not gratuitous, but portrays the good and evil in the world.
“I will never do slasher or horror films,” he said. “But if violence is necessary to make the audience partake in the story, then I put it in.”
Although he allows the violence to tell a story, McEveety shies away from movies with sexual content because he finds it unnecessary.
“Most of the time when you see sexual stuff it doesn’t promote the story at all,” he said, but went on to explain his work in the Mel Gibson film ‘What Women Want,’ as ‘pretty soft fun.’ “I don’t feel like it was harmful at all. Not really, we all have to have fun in our lives and not all this serious stuff. I am OK with that one … but, we do change over time and now I would probably think twice about doing it, but back then, I didn’t.”
Nearing the end of production is the first family film he has done in years. “The Snowmen,” slated to open in December or January, has no political overtones, he said, but is a fun film with a great ending.
“It is really for kids and parents and just the whole family,” he promised. “You will laugh and cry and feel good after seeing it. I loved working on this.”