AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Maria Full of Grace
Alternate Title: María, Llena eres de Gracia
Director: Joshua Marston (Dir)
Release Date:   Aug 2004
Premiere Information:   World premiere at Sundance Film Festival: 18 Jan 2004; Colombia opening: 2 Apr 2004; Los Angeles and New York openings: 16 Jul 2004
Production Date:   20 Jul--14 Aug 2002 in Ecuador; 9 Sep--4 Oct 2002, 8 Nov 2002 and 5 Feb 2003 in New York; 11 Feb--12 Feb 2003 in Colombia
Duration (in mins):   101
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Cast: Cast (In Order of Appearance) Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria [Alvarez])  
    Virginia Ariza (Juana)  
    Yenny Paola Vega (Blanca)  
    Rodrigo Sanchez Borhorquez (Supervisor)  
    Charles Albert Patiño (Felipe)  
    Wilson Guerrero (Juan)  
    Johanna Andrea Mora (Diana)  
    Fabricio Suarez (Pacho)  
    Mateo Suarez (Pacho)  
    Evangelina Morales (Rosita)  
    Juana Guarderas (Female pharmacist)  
    Jhon Alex Toro (Franklin)  
    Jaime Osorio Gómez ([Don] Javier)  
    Guilied López (Lucy [Diaz])  
    Victor Macias (Pellet maker)  
    Hugo Ferro (Pharmacist)  
    Ana Maria Acosta (Stewardess)  
    Ada Vergara de Solano (Carolina)  
    Maria Consuelo Perez (Constanza)  
    Ed Trucco (Customs inspector)  
    Selenis Leyva (Customs inspector)  
    Juan Porras Hincapie (Wilson)  
    Oscar Bejarano (Carlos)  
    Singkhan Bandit (Gas station attendant)  
    Patrick Rameau (Taxi driver)  
    Fernando Velasquez (Pablo [Aristizabel])  
    Patricia Rae (Carla [Aristizabel])  
    Orlando Tobón (Don Fernando)  
    Monique Gabriela Curnen (Receptionist)  
    Lourdes Martin (Doctor)  
    Osvaldo Plasencia (Enrique)  
    Azuquito (Live performance)  

Summary: In rural Colombia, seventeen-year-old Maria Alvarez works at a dead-end job dethorning roses at a factory and lives in a cramped apartment with her grandmother, mother, unmarried sister Diana and Diana's infant son Pacho. When her boss refuses to allow her a bathroom break, Maria argues with him and impulsively quits. At home, her family, who needs the money she brings in, insists that she apologize and return to her job, which is the only work available in the area. On the other hand, her friends congratulate her for being able to "kick ass." At a dance in the local plaza, Maria and her friend Blanca become acquainted with Franklin, a handsome young man. On another day, Maria tells her boyfriend, Juan, that she is pregnant, and then deliberately instigates an argument when he offers to marry her, over whether they would live at her family's apartment or his. Admitting that she does not love him, she breaks up with him, saying she wants more than a life like her sister’s. While waiting for a bus to the city, where she is seeking work as a maid, Maria again encounters Franklin, who rides up on his motorcycle. He gives her a ride, and, on the way, offers to introduce her to someone who might hire her as a drug "mule.” At first Maria is uninterested, having heard cautionary tales about heroin smugglers being jailed, but, lacking other options, she agrees to be interviewed. Franklin takes her to meet a seemingly gentle middle-aged man, Don Javier, who asks her if she has a boyfriend, if she has any digestive complaints and if she scares easily. Satisfied with her answers, Javier explains that the job entails flying to New York with the contraband and, after passing through U.S. Customs, delivering it to his colleagues. He tells her the job pays seven to eight million pesos, or approximately $5,000. To tempt her, Javier gives Maria a roll of bills. On the bus home, Maria sees Lucy Diaz, a woman who works for Javier, and introduces herself. When she returns home, Diana goads Maria to return to the rose plantation so that they can afford medicine for Pacho, who is feverish. Resentfully, Maria gives Diana some money from her roll of bills and then sulks in her room. Undecided about taking the mule job, Maria visits Lucy, who has made the trip twice to New York. Lucy explains that she hoped to reunite with her sister, Carla Aristizabel, who emigrated to New York four years ago. Both times Lucy had gone to New York previously, she was too ashamed about working as a mule to contact Carla. Using large grapes to substitute for heroin pellets, Lucy demonstrates how to swallow them whole without choking. She says that a mule is expected to swallow sixty to seventy latex-encased pellets of heroin powder and then excrete them after arriving. She warns Maria to make sure the pellets are well wrapped, because if they rupture inside the stomach, the person will die of a heroin overdose. Afterward, Maria learns that Franklin also approached Blanca, who has irrevocably agreed to make the trip. After telling her family that she has taken an office job in the city, Maria returns to Javier, who gives her medicine to slow her digestion, after which she painfully swallows sixty-two pellets of heroin. Then she is given $800, with a promise of full payment after delivery, a round-trip airplane ticket to New York and a passport. Finally, she is warned that her family will be harmed if even one of the pellets is not delivered. At the airport, Maria spots Blanca, Lucy and a fourth mule. During the flight, Lucy starts feeling ill and gives Maria Carla’s address in Queens. Shortly after landing in New York, the fourth mule is arrested, and suspicious customs officers search and interrogate Maria. Although the officials want to X-ray her stomach, they are prevented by law from doing so when they discover she is pregnant. Unable to prove that Maria is a smuggler, the officials release her. Outside the airport, she, Lucy and Blanca are forced into a car by two thuggish young men and taken to a New Jersey hotel room, where the women are given laxatives. In the following hours, the women excrete the pellets, keeping careful count, and wash them off. Maria and Blanca successfully rid themselves of the pellets, but Lucy becomes increasingly ill, despite Maria’s attempts to help her. While awakening from a nap, Maria sees the men carry away Lucy and afterward discovers blood in the bathtub. Suddenly realizing how much danger they are in, Maria wakes up Blanca and they flee with the pellets before the men can return. Although hampered by their inability to speak English, they travel by taxi to Carla’s address, but find no one at home. Blanca begins to act erractically and balks at entering Carla’s apartment building, and when the impatient taxi driver strands them, walks off alone. Maria waits, however, and when a pregnant Carla and her husband Pablo arrive, they allow Maria to stay temporarily in their small apartment after she explains she is a friend of Lucy and alone in the city. Having nowhere to go, Blanca returns, throwing suspicion on Maria's story. Carla takes them to meet Don Fernando, a generous Colombian expatriate who is known in the community for helping his people. Blanca, to Maria's dismay, rejects his assistance, and while fidgeting with her purse, unwittingly displays the pellets hidden inside. Seeing the heroin, Fernando advises them to return the drugs before their families are harmed. Outside, Blanca and Maria again quarrel and separate. While exploring the neighborhood, Maria discovers a pre-natal clinic, where, during an examination, she has an ultrasound and hears her baby's heartbeat. Before she leaves, she accepts an appointment for two weeks later, although she does not expect to be in the city. She then returns to Fernando's office, where he shows her the photograph of a woman found dead, her stomach disemboweled. Maria identifies the woman as Lucy. Ordered by Fernando to tell Carla about her sister, Maria finds she is unable to do so and instead states that she has decided to return to Colombia. Carla, believing that Maria is simply homesick, tries to encourage her to remain by explaining that although she misses home, she is proud to send money to her family and grateful for the opportunities her unborn child will have. When Fernando calls Carla to make arrangements to return Lucy's body to Colombia, Maria again tries to explain. Carla, in shock and mourning, realizes that Maria has lied to her, and banishes her and Blanca from her residence. The young women then contact the thugs, who, after threatening them, take the pellets and refuse to pay. When Maria stands up to the thugs, however, they hand over the money. Although Maria asks for Lucy's portion, to pay for her interment, the men refuse. Maria then gives Fernando her own money to send Lucy’s body home. While paying her respects at the funeral home, she says goodbye to Carla and, with Blanca, travels back to the airport intending to return home. As they are about to board the airplane, Maria, holding her baby’s sonogram and the clinic appointment card in her hand, decides to remain behind.
 

Production Company: Journeyman Pictures  
  Tucán Producciones  
  Altercine  
Distribution Company: HBO Films (A Time Warner Company)
  Fine Line Features (A Time Warner Company)
Director: Joshua Marston (Dir)
  Carrie Fix (1st asst dir)
  Diego Falconi (2d asst dir, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Mariela Comitini (2d asst dir, New York unit)
  Tania Hermida (2d 2d asst dir, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Jeff Brown (2d 2d asst dir, New York unit)
Producer: Paul Mezey (Prod)
  Jaime Osorio Gómez (Co-prod)
  Orlando Tobón (Assoc prod)
  Rodrigo Guerrero (Assoc prod)
  Becky Glupczynski (Line prod)
  Gigia Jaramillo (Ecuador unit line prod)
Writer: Joshua Marston (Wrt)
Photography: Jim Denault (Dir of photog)
  Rodrigo Guerrero (2d unit photog)
  Joia Speciale (2d unit photog)
  Scott Miller (Gaffer)
  Jay Silver (Cam op, New York unit)
  Joia Speciale (1st asst cam, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Ricardo Sarmiento (1st asst cam, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Milly Itzhak (1st asst cam, New York unit)
  Ana Maria Ormaza (2d asst cam, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Pablo Berti (2d asst cam, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Ethan Borsuk (2d asst cam, New York unit)
  Juan Carlos Rios (Asst cam)
  Sarah Berney (Cam scenic, New York unit)
  Cristobal Corral (Stills photog, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Larry Riley (Stills photog, New York unit)
  Miguel Molina (Best boy elec, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Michael Green (Best boy elec, New York unit)
  Hugo Bonilla (Generator op, New York unit)
  Luis Chalacan (Company elec, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Dave Elwell (Company elec, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Thomas Hamilton (Company elec, New York unit)
  Joshua Van Praag (Company elec, New York unit)
  Rodrigo Cueva (Key grip, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Matt Blades (Key grip, New York unit)
  Nicolai Soria (Best boy grip, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Steve Girouard (Best boy grip, New York unit)
  Jimmy Pazmiño (Company grip, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Hobardo Chicongas (Company grip, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Tony Arnaud (Company grip, New York unit)
  George Elias (Company grip, New York unit)
  Richard Suffern (Company grip, New York unit)
  Sekani Inc. (Stock footage)
  Film & Video Stock Shots, Inc. (Stock footage)
  Rocky Mountain Motion Pictures (Cam & lenses provided by)
  Hangar Films, Bogota (Grip and lighting provided by)
  Camera Service Center (Grip and lighting provided by)
Art Direction: Monica Marulanda (Prod des)
  Debbie De Villa (Prod des)
  Yann Blanc (Art dir, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Paul Carrera (Asst art dir, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Thomas Lee (Art dept coord, New York unit)
  David Murray (Art dept asst, New York unit)
  Michal Zilbersheid (Art dept intern, New York unit)
Film Editor: Anne McCabe (Ed)
  Lee Percy (Ed)
  Luis Ortiz Guillen (Asst ed)
  Drew Buckland (Asst ed)
  Post 391 (Edit facilities)
  Negative People (Negative cutter)
  Entertainment Post (Telecine)
Set Decoration: Carrie Stewart (Set dec, New York unit)
  Dave Reardon (Leadman, New York unit)
  Jorge Paredes (Const supv, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Sebastian Naranjo (On-set dresser, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Thomas La Vecchia (On-set dresser, New York unit)
  Danielle Webb (Set dresser, New York unit)
  Richard Leibgold (Set dresser, New York unit)
  Juan Olmo (Prop master, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Cliff Lane (Prop master, New York unit)
  John Von Bergen, Downtown Props (Spec eff props, New York unit)
  Enrique Vasconez (Asst props, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Jorge Jaramillo (Props asst, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
Costumes: Lauren Press (Cost des)
  Sarah Beers (Cost des)
  Ana Salazar (Ward supv, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Mildred Del Rio (Ward supv, New York unit)
  Jeremy Capilla (Ward asst, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Luana Holloway (Ward intern, New York unit)
Music: Lynn Fainchtein (Mus supv)
  Jacobo Lieberman (Mus)
  Leonardo Heiblum (Mus)
  James Flatto (Mus ed)
  P. J. Bloom (Mus consultant)
  Audioflot (Score prod at)
  Leonardo Heiblum (Score prod)
  Jacobo Lieberman (Score prod)
  Rodrigo Duarte (Cello solos)
  Celso Duarte (Violin & viola)
  Aaron Cruz (Double bass)
  Andres Sanchez (Bass)
  Jacobo Lieberman (Guitars)
  Leonardo Heiblum (Programming & editing)
  Azuquito (Live performance by)
  Lenin Palacios (Dir & trumpet)
  Hernan Guerrero (Vocals)
  Pedro Soto Estevez (Vocals)
  Jorge Mina (Bass)
  Richard Anton (Piano)
  Ruben "Bongoe" Luzuriaga (Congos & bongos)
  Linberg Valencia (Drums)
  Milton Anaguano (Saxophone)
  Franklin Paul Ganchala (Trumpet)
  Romulo Gallegos (Trombone)
Sound: Alex Wolfe (Sd mixer)
  Jeff Pullman (Standby sd mixer, New York unit)
  Rick Ash (Re-rec mixer)
  Drew Webster (Re-rec mixer)
  Reilly Steele (Re-rec mixer)
  Arsenio Cadena (Boom op, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Toussaint Kotright (Boom op, New York unit)
  John Gutierrez (Boom op, New York unit)
  Philip Stockton (Supv sd ed)
  Chris Fielder (Asst sd ed)
  C5 Inc. (Post-prod sd)
  Allan Zaleski (Sd eff ed)
  Ruth Hernandez (ADR ed)
  David Boulton (ADR recordist)
  Bobby Johanson (ADR recordist)
  Ricardo Escallon (ADR eng, Colombia)
  Matias Krieger (ADR asst, Colombia)
  Frank Kern (Foley supv)
  Steven Visscher (Foley ed)
  Marko Costanzo (Foley artist)
  George A. Lara (Foley artist)
  Pat Stoltz (Addl audio)
  Unsun Song (Addl audio)
  Andres Sanchez (Ambience sd rec)
  Alejandro Garcia (Ambience sd rec)
  Jim Wright (Dolby sd consultant)
Special Effects: iO Film (Digital titles and opticals)
  Adam S. Hawkey (Compositor/Colorist)
  Christopher Dusendschön (Digital imaging)
  J. Kathryn Landholt (Title graphics)
  Heather L. Anderson (iO Film supv)
Make Up: Flor Marina Sandoval (Key makeup/Hairstylist, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Dallas Hartnett (Key hairstylist, New York unit)
  Renee Didio (Key makeup artist, New York unit)
  Lucy Da Silva (Asst makeup/Hair, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
Production Misc: El Barco Producciones (Casting)
  Jorge Valencia (Casting)
  Maria Eugenia Salazar (Casting)
  Maria E. Nelson (Casting)
  Ellyn Long Marshall (Casting)
  Liliana Rincon (Colombia casting)
  Diana Camargo (Colombia casting)
  Juan Pablo Felix (Colombia casting)
  Felipe Solarte (Colombia casting)
  Jorge Valencia (Colombia casting)
  Maria Eugenia Salazar (Colombia casting)
  Monica Cardona (Colombia casting)
  Mauricio Samaniego (Ecuador casting)
  Sig de Miguel (Addl NY casting)
  Luis Sanchez-Cañete (Casting assoc)
  Alexandra Posada (Casting assoc)
  Marcela Castaño (Casting assoc)
  Mabel Escobar (Casting assoc)
  Myra Cotto (Casting intern)
  Meredith Jacobson Marciano (Extras casting)
  Tania Hermida (Extras casting, Colombia/Ecuador)
  Jeremy Kipp Walker (Prod supv)
  Pocho Alvarez (Prod mgr, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Roberto Aguirre (Loc mgr, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Ronnie Kupferwasser (Loc mgr, New York unit)
  Jennifer Quesenbery (Asst loc mgr, New York unit)
  Michael Dudek (Loc asst, New York unit)
  Andi Baiz (Loc scout, New York unit)
  Nicole Brown (Prod coord, New York unit)
  Mariana Hellmund (Scr supv)
  Scott Nabat (Post prod supv)
  Patricia Coronel (Office coord, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Julio Moreno (Prod assoc, New York unit)
  David Reich (Key prod asst, New York unit)
  Maria del Carmen Arellano (Prod asst, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Juan Carlos Pantoja "Yoyo" (Prod asst, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Diego Peñafiel "Kataboom" (Prod asst, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Ivan Marquez (Prod asst, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Carolina Bejarano (Prod asst, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Gustavo Chiriboga (Prod asst, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Monica Cardona (Colombia office prod asst, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Alexander Urrea (Colombia office prod asst, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Calvin Alden (Set prod asst, New York unit)
  Dan Elefante (Set prod asst, New York unit)
  Rosa Jimenez (Set prod asst, New York unit)
  Alison Norod (Set prod asst, New York unit)
  Jean-Christophe Couet (Office prod asst, New York unit)
  Adi Nachman (Office prod asst, New York unit)
  David Ray (Office prod asst, New York unit)
  Jared Graf (Prod intern, New York unit)
  Ben Schaeffer (Prod intern, New York unit)
  Major Andres Guijarro (Security supv, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Galo Molina Yepez (Customs coord, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Inspector Pedro Adorno (U.S. Customs consultant, New York unit)
  Gerenfoque (Accounting services, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  JFA, Inc. (Accounting services, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Martha Collantes (Accounting supv, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Fernando Muñoz (Prod auditor, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Shawn Hamilton (Prod accountant, New York unit)
  Peter Hutchison (Asst accountant, New York unit)
  John Finn (Post accountant, New York unit)
  Mauricio Garcia (Transportation capt, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Jim Buckman (Transportation capt, New York unit)
  Juan Alarcon (Driver, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Fabian Auz (Driver, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Marco Proaño (Driver, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Gary Mahr (Driver, New York unit)
  Danny Palmer (Driver, New York unit)
  John Palumbo (Driver, New York unit)
  Walter Chomow (Driver, New York unit)
  Explotours, Ecuador (Vehicles provided by)
  Dollar Rent-A-Car (Vehicles provided by)
  Cristian Paz (Motorcycle coord, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Hernan Bonilla (Climbing supv, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Dr. Alfonso Jurado (Set medic, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Don Perignon (Catering, Colombia/Ecuador unit)
  Coast to Coast (Catering, New York unit)
  Steve Delpino (Chef, New York unit)
  Epstein, Levinsohn, Bodine, Hurwitz & Weinstein, LLP (Legal counsel)
  Andrea Cannistraci (Legal counsel)
  Sue Bodine (Legal counsel)
  Eric M. Bland PC (Immigration legal services)
  Media Services (Payroll services)
  AON/Albert G. Ruben (Insurance)
Stand In: Manny Siverio (Stunt coord, New York unit)
  Elliot Santiago (Stunt coord, New York unit)
Color Personnel: Deluxe Laboratories (Lab services)
  Chris Regan (Col timer)
MPAA Rating: R
Country: United States
Language: Spanish

Music:
Songs: "Los caminos de la vida," written by Omar Geles, performed by Los Diablitos, courtesy of Codiscos; "Que nadie sepa mi sufrir," written by Angel Cabral and Enrique Dizeo, performed by Olimpo Cardenas, courtesy of Orfeon Videovox S.A.; "Abusadora," written by Miguel A. Figueredo, performed by Azuquito; "Momposina," written by José Barros, performed by Azuquito; "Cumbia sol marina," written by Edelberto Manriquez Jarava, performed by Azuquito; "Acaso no me crees," written by Aurelia Nuñez, performed by Patricia Teheran y Su Diosas, courtesy of Codiscos; "El preso," written by Alvaro Velasquez Balcazar, performed by Fruko y Sus Tesos, courtesy of Discos Fuentes; "La piragua," written by José Barros, performed by Gabriel Romero y Su Orquesta, courtesy of Discos Fuentes; "Picoteando por ahi," written and performed by Henry Fiol; "Gotitas de dolor," written by Julio Rodriguez Reyes, performed by Orlando Contreras, courtesy of Orfeon Videovox S.A.; "Porro sabañero," written by Gabriel Romero, performed by La Integración, courtesy of Discos Fuentes; "Mi primer millon," written by Jorge Villamizar and Sergio George, performed by Bacilos, courtesy of Warner Music Latina, by arrangement with Warner Strategic Marketing; "Shake It Fa Me," written by Milton Davis, DeMario Bridges and Jon Wesley, performed by Jon Wesley, courtesy of Windswept; "Yo no quiero," written and performed by Asilo 38 feat. Manchild, courtesy of Discosoye; "Por el amor a mi madre," written by Jorge Mejía Avante, performed by Angeles Azules, courtesy of D Disa Latin Music, S. de R. L. de C.V.; "Lo que venga despues," written and performed by Julieta Venegas, produced by Paco Huidobro, Julieta Venegas and Leonardo Heiblum and Jacobo Lieberman, courtesy of BMG Entertainment Mexico S.A. de C.V.
Composer: Asilo 38
  Alvaro Velasquez Balcazar
  José Barros
  DeMario Bridges
  Angel Cabral
  Milton Davis
  Enrique Dizeo
  Miguel A. Figueredo
  Henry Fiol
  Omar Geles
  Sergio George
  Edelberto Manriquez Jarava
  Jorge Mejía Avante
  Aurelia Nuñez
  Julio Rodriguez Reyes
  Gabriel Romero
  Julieta Venegas
  Jorge Villamizar
  Jon Wesley
Source Text:

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Home Box Office, Inc. 21/5/2004 dd/mm/yyyy PA0001225906

PCA NO: 40648
Physical Properties: Sd: Dolby Digital in selected theatres
  col:

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Social
 
Subjects (Major): Adolescents
  Colombia
  Heroin
  Immigrants
  Smuggling
  Voyages and travel
 
Subjects (Minor): Dance parties
  Death and dying
  Drug dealers
  Factory workers
  Family relationships
  Fear
  Friendship
  Infants
  Maturation
  Medicine--Examinations
  Money
  New Jersey
  New York City--Queens--Jackson Heights
  Plantations
  Pregnancy
  Roses
  Sisters
  Threats
  United States. Customs Service

Note: The Spanish-language title of the film is María, Llena eres de Gracia . Opening and ending cast credits differ in order. Joshua Marston’s opening credit reads: “Written and Directed by Joshua Marston.” The onscreen cast credit for the infants who portray the baby "Pacho" read: “Fabricio and Mateo Suarez.” Many of the Latino names appear onscreen without accent marks. The acoustic ensemble, Azuquito, appears in a "live performance" during the dance scene. According to an ending credit, the film was “Developed with the assistance of the Sundance Institute.” In the commentary on the DVD version of the film, Marston explains that his script was developed at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab Workshop.
       Among the long list of acknowledgments in the ending credits, “ al pueblo de Amaguaña, Ecuador ” and “the community of Jackson Heights, Queens, NY” were thanked, as were Jersey City and British Airways at John F. Kennedy “JFK” International Airport in New York, which were the major location shooting sites for the film. Actual scenes of Colombia are shown during the sequence in which “Maria” and “Franklin” are riding a motorcycle, according to Marston’s DVD commentary. The dialogue of Maria Full of Grace is primarily in Spanish, with some English spoken, and subtitles are provided for both languages.
       Maria Full of Grace marked the feature film directorial debut of thirty-five-year-old, Los Angeles-born Marston, a political science major who also studied film at New York University. Marston, who is fluent in several languages and was quoted in a Jan 2004 DV article as saying, “I like being a fly on a wall in environments that are not my own," had several “European adventures” before settling in New York City, where he lived for many years prior to making the film. According to the film’s website, Marston’s inspiration came from a conversation he had with an actual drug "mule," a woman hired to transport illegal drugs inside her body. Intrigued by her story, he researched further by interviewing former drug mules in prison, women flower plantation workers in Colombia, U.S. Customs inspectors at JFK Airport and Colombian immigrants in Queens. He was eventually referred to Orlando Tobón, a real-life community activist whom the Colombians in Queens call the “Mayor of Little Colombia.”
       According to several articles and the film’s website, Tobón runs a one-room travel agency and tax-preparation service, and acts as an intermediary in finding jobs, housing and other assistance for the people of his community. Tobón, like “Don Fernando,” the fictional counterpart he portrays in the film, has raised donations and arranged for the return to Colombia of over four hundred bodies of drug mules who perished on the job and would otherwise have been buried in New York’s Potter's Field. Tobón, who is also credited onscreen as associate producer, remarked on the film’s website that “it was a beautiful idea for people to see an authentic depiction of a drug mule’s situation – to see the human story.”
       The project also interested the more experienced filmmakers, producer and fellow NYU graduate Paul Mezey, whose father had grown up in Colombia, and co-producers Rodrigo Guerrero and Jaime Osorio Gómez, a well-known Colombian director who also portrayed “Don Javier” in the film. According to a Jul 2004 BackStage West article, director of photography Jim Denault had a contact with HBO, which eventually financed the film. The LA Weekly review noted that HBO initially did not intend to release the film theatrically, but that "the unexpected success" of the 2003 picture Real Women Have Curves , about Latina women, prompted the company to change its plans.
       As noted in a Jul 2004 NYT article, more than half the cast were nonprofessional actors. Twenty-three-year-old Catalina Sandino Moreno, who had performed in amateur theater, had auditioned unsuccessfully for Colombian commercials and soap operas, but was cast as “Maria” after a months-long search in Colombia and the U.S. involving eight hundred candidates. Yenny Paola Vega, who portrayed “Blanca,” was a high school student who “had never acted in her life,” according to the film’s website, but was persuaded by friends to try out when the film’s casting team scouted in southern Bogotá. According to a Jul 2004 LAT article and the film’s website, Victor Macias, who produced life-size facsimiles of heroin pellets on-camera and many prop pellets for the film, was a retired drug pellet packer.
       According to several sources, the filmmakers were planning to shoot the first part of the film in Colombia, where half the story takes place, but were unable to get insurance when bombings occurred there prior to a presidential election in 2002. Jul 2004 Village Voice and LAT articles noted that Venezuela was considered as an alternate site, until an attempted coup d’état erupted. The Ecuadorian village of Amaguaña, which is located south of Quito, was finally selected and its grey houses were painted in bright colors as is the style in Colombia.
       According to the film's website and DVD commentary, Marston asked his actors to improvise in order to get a true Colombian turn of phrase to maintain authenticy in the dialogue. Marston’s attention to detail was noted by the LAT review, which stated: he "shows what it means to be a mule with such step-by-step completeness that it's difficult to imagine that a documentary could be more detailed." In a Jul 2004 NYT article, Marston said, "This is a story usually told from the top down, from the point of view of a trafficker or a D.E.A. agent. We didn't want to do that. Our goal was to look at things from the ground up and to individualize people who usually get flattened to two dimensions in any discussion of the war on drugs."
       Rather than depicting drug lords like those on Miami Vice and other American television shows, he said in the DVD commentary that he remained true to the stories he was told: The character Javier is fatherly, and the thugs in New York are young and scared. The New Yorker review stated: “At times, the men seem softly seductive, like young pimps--until they administer the pellets. Then they become as stern as priests offering holy wafers at Mass. The sardonic associations with sexual and religious rituals are there for us to see without Marston’s harping on them." As described in a Jul 2004 LAT article, the poster advertising the film shows Maria “apparently about to receive communion. She’s looking pensively at a hand reaching down with what might be bread. It’s actually 10 grams of heroin wrapped in latex.”
       In a Jul 2004 LAT article, Marston, remarking on Maria’s laziness and rebelliousness, stated that he did not want to make her too sympathetic by placing her in the midst of “incredible economic hardship.” He said, “If that were too dominant, her decision…wouldn’t be any decision at all. The more interesting thing was to imply that she had other options. In fact, what she’s really wanting is not economic relief but something beyond that.” About the film’s title, Marston said, Maria is "a character who discovers grace in herself that allows her to move forward as a mature adult.”
       The film had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in Jan 2004 and subsequently was shown and received prizes at many international festivals, among them, Cartegena, Sundance, Deauville and Berlin, where, according to a Jul 2004 LAT article, an audience member fainted during the scene where Maria swallows the pellets. Just after Easter, the film opened in Colombia. According to Moreno in a Jul 2004 NYT article, it may have “altered the lives of Colombian filmgoers whose only knowledge of mules came from [airport] posters." The Washington Post review claimed that Patricia Rae, who played “Carla” in the film, delivers “the movie’s most moving soliloquy on the mixture of grief, longing, pride and bravery that define the immigrant experience.” According to the website and the NYT article, “early in June, a 17-year-old boy called from Bogotá to say he had seen the film two days before and as a result had changed his mind about transporting drugs to the United States.” Maria Full of Grace opened in Los Angeles and New York in mid-Jul 2004, followed by a limited general release.
       Because the film’s dialogue was mostly in Spanish, and because Oscar submissions for foreign-language films may only be made by the country in which they are made, Maria Full of Grace was ineligible for an Academy Award nomination in the foreign-language category, but Catalina Sandino Moreno received a nomination for Best Actress. The film garnered many other nominations and awards, among them: Best First Film and Debut Director from the New York Film Critics Circle; and five nominations for Independent Spirit awards from the IFP, Best Feature, Best Director, Best Female Lead, Best Supporting Female and Best First Screenplay from . Marston won the Best First Screenplay and Moreno won the Best Female Lead award from the IFP. Moreno was co-winner of the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival and was nominated for Best Female Actor by the Screen Actors Guild. The film was named one of the top foreign films of 2004 by the National Board of Review, and was one of AFI’s Top Ten Films of 2004.  

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
BackStage West   15 Jul 2004   p. 14.
Daily Variety   14 Jan 2004.   
Daily Variety   21 Jan 2004.   
Daily Variety   22 Jan 2004.   
Daily Variety   23 Jan 2004.   
Daily Variety   9 Nov 2004.   
Daily Variety   19 Nov 2004.   
Entertainment Today   16 Jul 2004.   
Entertainment Weekly   23 Jul 2004.   
Hollywood Reporter   22 Jan 2004   p. 12, 29.
Hollywood Reporter   3 Aug 2004.   
Los Angeles Times   11 Jul 2004.   
Los Angeles Times   16 Jul 2004   Calendar, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times   4 Aug 2004.   
LA Weekly   16-22 Jul 2004   p. 34.
New York Times   26 Jan 2004.   
New York Times   11 Jul 2004   p. 9, 16.
New York Times   16 Jul 2004.   
New Yorker   26 Jul 2004.   
Newsweek   9 Aug 2004.   
Screen International   30 Jan 2004.   
Time   2 Aug 2004.   
The Times (London)   28 Oct 2004.   
The Times (London)   30 Oct 2004.   
Variety   26 Jan 2004.   
Village Voice   14 Jul 2004.   
Vogue   Jul 2004.   
WSJ   16 Jul 2004.   
Washington Post   30 Jul 2004   p. C01.

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