Maria Full of Grace


1h 41m 2004

Brief Synopsis

A bright, spirited 17-year-old, Maria Alvarez, lives with three generations of her family in a cramped house in rural Colombia and works stripping thorns from flowers in a rose plantation. The offer of a lucrative job involving travel--in fact, becoming a drug "mule"--changes the course of her life

Film Details

Also Known As
María, Llena eres de Gracia
MPAA Rating
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 Company
Altercine; Journeyman Pictures; Tucán Producciones
Distribution Company
Fine Line Features; HBO Films
Country
United States
Location
New York City, New York, USA; Ecuador; Amaguaña,Ecuador ; Amaguaña,Equador ; Jersey City, New Jersey, United States; New York City--John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, United States; New York City--Queens--Jackson Heights, New York, United States; New York--John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, United States; New York--Queens--Jackson Heights, New York, United States; Colombia

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 41m

Synopsis

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.

Crew

Inspector Pedro Adorno

U.S. Customs consultant, New York unit

Roberto Aguirre

Loc Manager, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Juan Alarcon

Driver, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Calvin Alden

Set prod Assistant, New York unit

Pocho Alvarez

Prod Manager, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Milton Anaguano

Saxophone

Heather L. Anderson

iO Film Supervisor

Richard Anton

Piano

Maria Del Carmen Arellano

Prod Assistant, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Tony Arnaud

Company grip, New York unit

Rick Ash

Re-rec mixer

Fabian Auz

Driver, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Azuquito

Live performance by

Andi Baiz

Loc scout, New York unit

Alvaro Velasquez Balcazar

Composer

José Barros

Composer

Sarah Beers

Costume Design

Carolina Bejarano

Prod Assistant, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Sarah Berney

Camera scenic, New York unit

Pablo Berti

2d Assistant Camera, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Matt Blades

Key grip, New York unit

Yann Blanc

Art Director, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Eric M. Bland Pc

Immigration legal services

P. J. Bloom

Music consultant

Sue Bodine

Legal counsel

Hernan Bonilla

Climbing Supervisor, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Hugo Bonilla

Generator op, New York unit

Ethan Borsuk

2d Assistant Camera, New York unit

David Boulton

ADR recordist

Demario Bridges

Composer

Jeff Brown

2d 2d Assistant Director, New York unit

Nicole Brown

Prod Coordinator, New York unit

Drew Buckland

Assistant Editor

Jim Buckman

Transportation capt, New York unit

Angel Cabral

Composer

Arsenio Cadena

Boom op, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Diana Camargo

Colombia casting

Andrea Cannistraci

Legal counsel

Jeremy Capilla

Wardrobe Assistant, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Monica Cardona

Colombia casting

Monica Cardona

Colombia office prod Assistant, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Paul Carrera

Assistant art Director, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Marcela Castaño

Casting Associate

Luis Chalacan

Company Electrician, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Hobardo Chicongas

Company grip, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Gustavo Chiriboga

Prod Assistant, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Walter Chomow

Driver, New York unit

Coast To Coast

Catering, New York unit

Martha Collantes

Accounting Supervisor, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Mariela Comitini

2d Assistant Director, New York unit

Patricia Coronel

Office Coordinator, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Cristobal Corral

Stills Photographer, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Marko Costanzo

Foley artist

Myra Cotto

Casting intern

Jean-christophe Couet

Office prod Assistant, New York unit

Aaron Cruz

Double bass

Rodrigo Cueva

Key grip, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Lucy Da Silva

Assistant makeup/Hair, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Milton Davis

Composer

Debbie De Villa

Production Design

Mildred Del Rio

Wardrobe Supervisor, New York unit

Steve Delpino

Chef, New York unit

Deluxe Laboratories

Lab services

Jim Denault

Director of Photography

Renee Didio

Key makeup artist, New York unit

Enrique Dizeo

Composer

Celso Duarte

Violin & viola

Rodrigo Duarte

Cello solos

Michael Dudek

Loc Assistant, New York unit

Christopher Dusendschön

Digital imaging

Dan Elefante

Set prod Assistant, New York unit

George Elias

Company grip, New York unit

Dave Elwell

Company Electrician, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Ricardo Escallon

ADR eng, Colombia

Mabel Escobar

Casting Associate

Lynn Fainchtein

Music Supervisor

Diego Falconi

2d Assistant Director, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Juan Pablo Felix

Colombia casting

Chris Fielder

Assistant Sound Editor

Miguel A. Figueredo

Composer

John Finn

Post accountant, New York unit

Henry Fiol

Composer

Carrie Fix

1st Assistant Director

James Flatto

Music Editor

Romulo Gallegos

Trombone

Franklin Paul Ganchala

Trumpet

Alejandro Garcia

Ambience Sound rec

Mauricio Garcia

Transportation capt, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Omar Geles

Composer

Sergio George

Composer

Steve Girouard

Best boy grip, New York unit

Becky Glupczynski

Line prod

Jaime Osorio Gómez

Co-producer

Jared Graf

Prod intern, New York unit

Michael Green

Best boy Electrician, New York unit

Hernan Guerrero

Vocals

Rodrigo Guerrero

Associate Producer

Rodrigo Guerrero

2nd Unit Photography

Major Andres Guijarro

Security Supervisor, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Luis Ortiz Guillen

Assistant Editor

John Gutierrez

Boom op, New York unit

Shawn Hamilton

Prod accountant, New York unit

Thomas Hamilton

Company Electrician, New York unit

Dallas Hartnett

Key hairstylist, New York unit

Adam S. Hawkey

Compositor/Colorist

Leonardo Heiblum

Music

Leonardo Heiblum

Score prod

Leonardo Heiblum

Programming & editing

Mariana Hellmund

Script Supervisor

Tania Hermida

Extras casting, Colombia/Ecuador

Tania Hermida

2d 2d Assistant Director, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Ruth Hernandez

ADR Editor

Luana Holloway

Wardrobe intern, New York unit

Peter Hutchison

Assistant accountant, New York unit

Milly Itzhak

1st Assistant Camera, New York unit

Gigia Jaramillo

Ecuador unit line prod

Jorge Jaramillo

Props Assistant, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Edelberto Manriquez Jarava

Composer

Rosa Jimenez

Set prod Assistant, New York unit

Bobby Johanson

ADR recordist

Dr. Alfonso Jurado

Set medic, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Frank Kern

Foley Supervisor

Toussaint Kotright

Boom op, New York unit

Matias Krieger

ADR Assistant, Colombia

Ronnie Kupferwasser

Loc Manager, New York unit

Thomas La Vecchia

On-set dresser, New York unit

J. Kathryn Landholt

Title graphics

Cliff Lane

Props master, New York unit

George A. Lara

Foley artist

Thomas Lee

Art Department Coordinator, New York unit

Richard Leibgold

Set dresser, New York unit

Jacobo Lieberman

Music

Jacobo Lieberman

Score prod

Jacobo Lieberman

Guitars

Ruben "bongoe" Luzuriaga

Congos & bongos

Gary Mahr

Driver, New York unit

Meredith Jacobson Marciano

Extras casting

Ivan Marquez

Prod Assistant, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Ellyn Long Marshall

Casting

Joshua Marston

Writer

Monica Marulanda

Production Design

Anne Mccabe

Editing

Jorge Mejía Avante

Composer

Paul Mezey

Producer

Sig De Miguel

Addl NY casting

Scott Miller

Gaffer

Jorge Mina

Bass

Miguel Molina

Best boy Electrician, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Julio Moreno

Prod Associate, New York unit

Fernando Muñoz

Prod auditor, Colombia/Ecuador unit

David Murray

Art Department Assistant, New York unit

Scott Nabat

Post prod Supervisor

Adi Nachman

Office prod Assistant, New York unit

Sebastian Naranjo

On-set dresser, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Maria E. Nelson

Casting

Alison Norod

Set prod Assistant, New York unit

Aurelia Nuñez

Composer

Juan Olmo

Props master, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Ana Maria Ormaza

2d Assistant Camera, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Lenin Palacios

Director & trumpet

Danny Palmer

Driver, New York unit

John Palumbo

Driver, New York unit

Juan Carlos Pantoja "yoyo"

Prod Assistant, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Jorge Paredes

Const Supervisor, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Cristian Paz

Motorcycle Coordinator, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Jimmy Pazmiño

Company grip, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Diego Peñafiel "kataboom"

Prod Assistant, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Lee Percy

Editing

Don Perignon

Catering, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Alexandra Posada

Casting Associate

Lauren Press

Costume Design

Marco Proaño

Driver, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Jeff Pullman

Standby Sound mixer, New York unit

Jennifer Quesenbery

Assistant loc Manager, New York unit

David Ray

Office prod Assistant, New York unit

Dave Reardon

Leadman, New York unit

Chris Regan

Col timer

David Reich

Key prod Assistant, New York unit

Julio Rodriguez Reyes

Composer

Larry Riley

Stills Photographer, New York unit

Liliana Rincon

Colombia casting

Juan Carlos Rios

Assistant Camera

Gabriel Romero

Composer

Ana Salazar

Wardrobe Supervisor, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Maria Eugenia Salazar

Casting

Maria Eugenia Salazar

Colombia casting

Mauricio Samaniego

Ecuador casting

Andres Sanchez

Ambience Sound rec

Andres Sanchez

Bass

Luis Sanchez-cañete

Casting Associate

Flor Marina Sandoval

Key makeup/Hairstylist, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Elliot Santiago

Stunt Coordinator, New York unit

Ricardo Sarmiento

1st Assistant Camera, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Ben Schaeffer

Prod intern, New York unit

Jay Silver

Camera op, New York unit

Manny Siverio

Stunt Coordinator, New York unit

Felipe Solarte

Colombia casting

Unsun Song

Addl audio

Nicolai Soria

Best boy grip, Colombia/Ecuador unit

Pedro Soto Estevez

Vocals

Film Details

Also Known As
María, Llena eres de Gracia
MPAA Rating
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 Company
Altercine; Journeyman Pictures; Tucán Producciones
Distribution Company
Fine Line Features; HBO Films
Country
United States
Location
New York City, New York, USA; Ecuador; Amaguaña,Ecuador ; Amaguaña,Equador ; Jersey City, New Jersey, United States; New York City--John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, United States; New York City--Queens--Jackson Heights, New York, United States; New York--John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, United States; New York--Queens--Jackson Heights, New York, United States; Colombia

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 41m

Award Nominations

Best Actress

2004
Catalina Sandino Moreno

Articles

Maria Full of Grace - An Interview with the Filmmaker and the Star by Marty Mapes


Maria Full of Grace has played to critical acclaim in Sundance, New York, and L.A. With any luck, it will be opening soon at a theater near you. It tells the story behind one drug mule named Maria, who flies from Colombia to the U.S. with a stomach full of latex pellets stuffed with cocaine.

The movie's arc follows Maria's life, but what audiences will remember, and what may become a cinematic icon, is the tense scene of Maria swallowing 62 big drug pellets and sweating her way to America on the plane.

The film's director and its star (Josh Marston and Catalina Sandino Moreno) looked weary on a strangely humid July afternoon in Denver, Colorado. They've been touring the country to promote their movie, the first film for both of them. Marston spent five years researching, while Moreno showed up after the last minute (the shoot was delayed while Josh sought the perfect Maria).

Marty Mapes: Five years in the making. I'm surprised it's a 90-minute movie and not a book. Is there a book in you somewhere?

Josh Marston: It's not my medium. I like writing and I write, I would love to write a novel at some point, and I wouldn't mind writing nonfiction, but somehow it just wasn't the medium that felt right for this for me.

MM: There's a lot of stuff that you can't fit into 90 minutes.

JM: True, but there's also an emotional weight and drama that you can give to something by fictionalizing it that you can't by either making a documentary film or writing a nonfiction piece of work.

MM: Catalina, I've read that the casting was a surprise to you, and that you wanted to go see what this strange white guy was doing. It turns out you got picked over 800 other Marias? What do you attribute that to?

CSM: Luck? Talent? I don't know. I think the circumstances were so crazy because I was refusing to go to any castings. When the casting came, it was thanks to my mom that I went. She was like "You have to go, you have to go, go and see who this guy is, just go and see him." And when I went, I saw him, and we've been working since. It was destiny. It was luck. It was, I don't know, compilations of a lot of things, all together.

MM: It's set in Colombia, but it was shot in Ecuador. How come?

JM: Because at the time we were getting ready to shoot -- it was just before the presidential elections there -- things were heating up, there were a few bombs placed, and we couldn't get production insurance. So we had to move everything to Ecuador, which was probably the most difficult and harrowing moment of the whole film.

MM: Not getting insurance or having to move?

JM: Having to move, because it was one thing to be an American and going to Colombia to tell a Colombian story -- who am I to do that? But to take it a step further and be an American going to Ecuador and fabricating a country that's not my own was very daunting because I knew I wanted to get it right. I wanted it to feel authentic. And ultimately our way to do it right was to collaborate with a lot of Colombians.

MM: Is Colombia really that unsafe? Catalina, you've got family there? Do you think of Colombia as a dangerous place?

CSM: I lived in Colombia -- I lived in Bogota for 21 years -- and nobody ever robbed me.....None of my friends were involved with drugs. None of them have been robbed. So it's pretty crazy. In a lot of places in Colombia of course you find violence, but the rest of Colombia is not like that. Like in Bogota I feel safe.

MM: I was surprised at the low tech approach -- the drug traffickers used latex gloves to form the pellets, then they used this machine, and I'm not sure what it was.

JM: It would normally be used to make homemade vitamins.

MM: I was wondering if the drug trade developed this low tech solution, and then developed this high tech machine.

JM: No. All of it is based on stories that I was told. In a way, I actually think latex fingers are higher tech than condoms, and I personally never understood condoms, I could never wrap my head around it. Everything about it just seemed wrong.

MM: People used that for swallowing drugs?

JM: That's sort of the urban legend. That was the only thing I had heard about when all of this started, was the idea of swallowing drugs in condoms and transporting them. And in a way that first story that I heard -- the fact that it was latex gloves, it was so specific -- that was one of those levels of detail that sucked me in to wanting to tell this story.

MM: On that scene -- it's really hard to watch. Was it hard to perform? Did you ever actually swallow something?

CSM: Yeah, I swallowed 8 pellets through the whole movie. And it was as scary as it looks. The fear that I have in that scene, it was a real fear. I didn't act. It was good because it was my first time that I saw how a pill was made. It was my first time that I put a pellet in my mouth. I didn't practice.

MM: Josh, you've done a lot of research into some dangerous people. Did you ever get so close that you were in fear of your life?

JM: No. No, not at all. I think making a film about a drug mill is about as threatening to the higher-ups of the drug trade as making a film about a drug pusher on the corner of the South Bronx would be to the same people. It's a low-level person, of whom there are thousands, and doing something that's fairly commonplace and common knowledge in Colombia.

MM: Catalina, do you think that's true? Do you think this is common knowledge?

CSM: Yeah. Of course I learn a lot (from the movie) but it's not a secret and we know that there are mules. And we know they are caught and they are in jail and that's good. That's the only thing we know. The other part that I really learned from this movie is that behind every mule is a plot and you have to respect that. It's so easy to judge people. You just have to quit judging and just try to put yourself in their shoes, try to think, why do they risk their life for a couple of dollars?

MM: How did you react when you saw your whole performance all at once?

CSM: Of course at first I was very disappointed. You're criticizing yourself. The first I'm like, "That's a horrible performance. I did a horrible job. I don't know why I'm there." [To JM:] Remember, I'm like "Josh why did you pick me, I'm not your right Maria."

JM: [to CSM]: but did you expect the film to have the power that it did?

CSM: Of course not. I never ever thought that it was gonna be so powerful. I know that I was pleasing you, and I know that I trusted you as a director, but I never thought I was doing a great job, that everybody [would] like me. It's very weird to see the critics [rave].

Maria Full Of Grace - An Interview With The Filmmaker And The Star By Marty Mapes

Maria Full of Grace - An Interview with the Filmmaker and the Star by Marty Mapes

Maria Full of Grace has played to critical acclaim in Sundance, New York, and L.A. With any luck, it will be opening soon at a theater near you. It tells the story behind one drug mule named Maria, who flies from Colombia to the U.S. with a stomach full of latex pellets stuffed with cocaine. The movie's arc follows Maria's life, but what audiences will remember, and what may become a cinematic icon, is the tense scene of Maria swallowing 62 big drug pellets and sweating her way to America on the plane. The film's director and its star (Josh Marston and Catalina Sandino Moreno) looked weary on a strangely humid July afternoon in Denver, Colorado. They've been touring the country to promote their movie, the first film for both of them. Marston spent five years researching, while Moreno showed up after the last minute (the shoot was delayed while Josh sought the perfect Maria). Marty Mapes: Five years in the making. I'm surprised it's a 90-minute movie and not a book. Is there a book in you somewhere? Josh Marston: It's not my medium. I like writing and I write, I would love to write a novel at some point, and I wouldn't mind writing nonfiction, but somehow it just wasn't the medium that felt right for this for me. MM: There's a lot of stuff that you can't fit into 90 minutes. JM: True, but there's also an emotional weight and drama that you can give to something by fictionalizing it that you can't by either making a documentary film or writing a nonfiction piece of work. MM: Catalina, I've read that the casting was a surprise to you, and that you wanted to go see what this strange white guy was doing. It turns out you got picked over 800 other Marias? What do you attribute that to? CSM: Luck? Talent? I don't know. I think the circumstances were so crazy because I was refusing to go to any castings. When the casting came, it was thanks to my mom that I went. She was like "You have to go, you have to go, go and see who this guy is, just go and see him." And when I went, I saw him, and we've been working since. It was destiny. It was luck. It was, I don't know, compilations of a lot of things, all together. MM: It's set in Colombia, but it was shot in Ecuador. How come? JM: Because at the time we were getting ready to shoot -- it was just before the presidential elections there -- things were heating up, there were a few bombs placed, and we couldn't get production insurance. So we had to move everything to Ecuador, which was probably the most difficult and harrowing moment of the whole film. MM: Not getting insurance or having to move? JM: Having to move, because it was one thing to be an American and going to Colombia to tell a Colombian story -- who am I to do that? But to take it a step further and be an American going to Ecuador and fabricating a country that's not my own was very daunting because I knew I wanted to get it right. I wanted it to feel authentic. And ultimately our way to do it right was to collaborate with a lot of Colombians. MM: Is Colombia really that unsafe? Catalina, you've got family there? Do you think of Colombia as a dangerous place? CSM: I lived in Colombia -- I lived in Bogota for 21 years -- and nobody ever robbed me.....None of my friends were involved with drugs. None of them have been robbed. So it's pretty crazy. In a lot of places in Colombia of course you find violence, but the rest of Colombia is not like that. Like in Bogota I feel safe. MM: I was surprised at the low tech approach -- the drug traffickers used latex gloves to form the pellets, then they used this machine, and I'm not sure what it was. JM: It would normally be used to make homemade vitamins. MM: I was wondering if the drug trade developed this low tech solution, and then developed this high tech machine. JM: No. All of it is based on stories that I was told. In a way, I actually think latex fingers are higher tech than condoms, and I personally never understood condoms, I could never wrap my head around it. Everything about it just seemed wrong. MM: People used that for swallowing drugs? JM: That's sort of the urban legend. That was the only thing I had heard about when all of this started, was the idea of swallowing drugs in condoms and transporting them. And in a way that first story that I heard -- the fact that it was latex gloves, it was so specific -- that was one of those levels of detail that sucked me in to wanting to tell this story. MM: On that scene -- it's really hard to watch. Was it hard to perform? Did you ever actually swallow something? CSM: Yeah, I swallowed 8 pellets through the whole movie. And it was as scary as it looks. The fear that I have in that scene, it was a real fear. I didn't act. It was good because it was my first time that I saw how a pill was made. It was my first time that I put a pellet in my mouth. I didn't practice. MM: Josh, you've done a lot of research into some dangerous people. Did you ever get so close that you were in fear of your life? JM: No. No, not at all. I think making a film about a drug mill is about as threatening to the higher-ups of the drug trade as making a film about a drug pusher on the corner of the South Bronx would be to the same people. It's a low-level person, of whom there are thousands, and doing something that's fairly commonplace and common knowledge in Colombia. MM: Catalina, do you think that's true? Do you think this is common knowledge? CSM: Yeah. Of course I learn a lot (from the movie) but it's not a secret and we know that there are mules. And we know they are caught and they are in jail and that's good. That's the only thing we know. The other part that I really learned from this movie is that behind every mule is a plot and you have to respect that. It's so easy to judge people. You just have to quit judging and just try to put yourself in their shoes, try to think, why do they risk their life for a couple of dollars? MM: How did you react when you saw your whole performance all at once? CSM: Of course at first I was very disappointed. You're criticizing yourself. The first I'm like, "That's a horrible performance. I did a horrible job. I don't know why I'm there." [To JM:] Remember, I'm like "Josh why did you pick me, I'm not your right Maria." JM: [to CSM]: but did you expect the film to have the power that it did? CSM: Of course not. I never ever thought that it was gonna be so powerful. I know that I was pleasing you, and I know that I trusted you as a director, but I never thought I was doing a great job, that everybody [would] like me. It's very weird to see the critics [rave].

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

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 January 2004 Daily Variety 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 July 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 July 2004 New York Times 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 July 2004 Los Angeles Times 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. July 2004 Village Voice and Los Angeles Times 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 Los Angeles Times 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 July 2004 New York Times 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 July 2004 Los Angeles Times 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 July 2004 Los Angeles Times 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 January 2004 and subsequently was shown and received prizes at many international festivals, among them, Cartegena, Sundance, Deauville and Berlin, where, according to a July 2004 Los Angeles Times 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 July 2004 New York Times 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 New York Times 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-July 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.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Summer July 16, 2004

Released in United States on Video December 7, 2004

Released in United States January 2004 (Shown at Sundance Film Festival (Dramatic Competition) January 15-25, 2004.)

Winner of the Audience Award for Best Dramatic Feature at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.

Winner of the 2004 New Generation Award by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA).

Winner of the 2004 Berlin International Film Festival's Alfred Bauer Prize for Best First Feature for director Joshua Marston.

Winner of the 2004 award for Most Promising Performer (Catalina Sandino Moreno) by the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA).

Winner of the 2004 award for Best Foreign Language Film by the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA).

Winner of the 2004 award for Best Foreign Language Film by the Toronto Film Critics Association (TFCA).

Winner of the 2004 award for Best Foreign Language Film by the Seattle Film Critics.

Winner of the 2004 award for Best Foreign Language Film by the San Francisco Film Critics Circle (SFFCC).

Winner of the 2004 award for Best First Film by the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC).

Winner of the 2004 Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at the IFP/Los Angeles Film Festival.

Voted one of the 10 best films of 2004 by the American Film Institute (AFI).

Co-winner of the Silver Bear for Best Actress (shared with Charlize Theron) at the 2004 Berlin Intenational Film Festival.

Limited Release in United States July 16, 2004

Released in United States Summer July 16, 2004

Released in United States on Video December 7, 2004

Released in United States January 2004

Released in United States February 2004

Released in United States June 2004

Released in United States September 2004

Shown at Berlin International Film Festival February 5-15, 2004.

Shown at IFP/Los Angeles Film Festival (Special Screenings) June 17-26, 2004.

Shown at San Sebastian International Film Festival September 17-25, 2004.

Shown at Deauville Festival of American Cinema September 3-12, 2004.

Josh Marston won third place for his script, "Maria Full of Grace," at the 2001 Slamdance Screenplay Competition.

Feature directorial debut for Joshua Marston.

Film will theatrically release through the joint distribution channel established in 2003 by HBO and Fine Line Features.

Project was workshopped at the February 2001 Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab.

Limited Release in United States July 16, 2004

Released in United States September 2004 (Shown at San Sebastian International Film Festival September 17-25, 2004.)

Released in United States February 2004 (Shown at Berlin International Film Festival February 5-15, 2004.)

Released in United States June 2004 (Shown at IFP/Los Angeles Film Festival (Special Screenings) June 17-26, 2004.)

Released in United States September 2004 (Shown at Deauville Festival of American Cinema September 3-12, 2004.)

Winner of the Best Film award at the 2004 Deauville Festival of American Cinema.