Pic nommed for IFP's John Cassavetes Award

Billed as “Anne Frank meets ‘8 Mile,’ ” this urban family film burst on the L.A. indie scene in February 2003 when it won the audience award at the Pan African Film Festival and dramatic feature at the Santa Monica fest.

“It was pretty validating,” says L.A.-based producer-co-writer and actor Luis Moro. “You wonder if anybody is going to respond to it and then an African-Hispanic crowd and a totally Caucasian crowd both love it in the same week.”

Nominated for IFP’s John Cassavetes Award (budgets under $500,000), the first feature by director Lisa France chronicles a shy high school girl (played by newcomer Ja Nice Richardson) who, inspired by “The Diary of Anne Frank,” writes her own poetry and eventually triumphs over her poor Bronx surroundings.

Acquired for video distribution by Screen Media, Moro now regrets the deal, wondering if it cost the film a theatrical release. (So far, Moro and France, who met doing extra and stunt work on “The Siege,” have only four-walled the film at New York’s Two Boots Pioneer Theater.) “We took one of the first deals that came along,” admits Moro. “We sold out too early.”

But that hasn’t deterred the filmmakers. They recently shot a romantic comedy in Havana, will begin production on another film this spring, and both have work set up at major Hollywood companies.

“Getting the nomination has shifted the way people deal with us,” Moro says. “We got nominated for an indie Oscar and that’s priceless for the little world that we’re in.”

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