By Maria Khel
VALENCIA, Spain (OSV News) — Fifteen years ago, Spanish actor and producer Juan Manuel Cotelo was comfortable in his Catholic faith — and kept it safely out of the public eye. Now he is using his filmmaking skills to expose extraordinary testimonies of faithful men and women. And he became a testimony himself.
Cotelo described his relationship with God a few years back as a “secret love affair,” loving God at home with the door closed. He has since committed to using the media to tell stories of people who have embraced a call to act courageously in the service of God.
He said he wants to encourage many more people to live out their faith with conviction.
Cotelo had been working in mainstream media for years when he began to feel dogged by a persistent thought: “Speak about me” — the “me” being Jesus Christ. He played “ping-pong” in his mind with this idea for a few years, he said.
“The thought comes and you hit it back. And the ball comes back … you reject it again. For three years the ball kept coming back again and again: ‘Speak about me, speak about me.’ One day I was tired of rejecting the ball,” he said in testimony shared on YouTube.
The workings of grace soon became evident, and he compared following God’s direction to trusting a mountain guide.
“You don’t interrupt him, you put your life in his hand and let him make the decisions of the trip. You do what he decides. If he goes forward, you go forward; if he stops, you stop; if he decides to go back, you go back,” Cotelo said.
Cotelo embarked on a new Catholic filmmaking mission in 2008 and now runs a production company called Infinito Mas Uno, based in Valencia, Spain. It has produced five feature films that have been released in theaters and on Netflix in 41 countries.
Cotelo’s company also creates online content. By 2022, those productions had reached 52 million views.
Similar to the hit series “The Chosen,” Cotelo’s productions are crowdfunded, so that the most popular projects are first to move forward.
Now Cotelo is crowdfunding for a series of documentaries on people and organizations that exemplify the call of Pope Francis called “Hagan Lio!” — a Spanish phrase that means “go and be heard” in Argentina, while in Mexico it means “go make a mess” or “go get in trouble.”
The phrase was used by Pope Francis at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013 and has taken on a life of its own, becoming a motto and inspiring memes.
The documentary series it inspired is called “Let’s Be Bold” in English — and the stories Cotelo wishes to tell are bold indeed. For the start of the series, Cotelo gathered 12 examples of people and groups showing courageous faith in action, carrying a countercultural message.
“These stories are truly good news,” he said, adding, “They deserve to be told widely.”
Following the rapid success of an initial fundraising campaign, six documentaries are now scheduled to move into production. One of the first in the series will be about the international food charity Mary’s Meals, which provides daily school meals for 2.4 million children.
The charity reaches out to and works with people of all faiths and no faith, and is deeply marked by the Catholic faith of its founder, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow. It is named for the mother of Jesus.
Cotelo hoped that making such stories more widely known will show a “beautiful face of the church” that many people “have not yet seen” and inspire “many others to take a leap of faith to follow their own calling in life.”
His ultimate goal is to communicate in a way that transforms people, and reaction to his production company’s work shows that stories of faith are galvanizing.
“I could tell you lots of miracles that we have seen in only 14 years. Lots, lots of conversions. All kinds of conversions. From people who were desperate because they have done something really, really bad, to people who were really sad,” Cotelo said.
“And now they are spots of light in the world,” he continued. “They have been resurrected. I know so many dead people who are alive now. The impossible cases, people where we would have said it is impossible that they will recover peace, or be an apostle, or be happy again. God transforms our lives completely.”
After the initial six documentaries, another six will be made after the next wave of fundraising. The public will ultimately decide how many stories Cotelo will tell.
Maria Khel writes for OSV News from Valencia, Spain.