Distribs to release 'Maria' Stateside

PARK CITY — HBO Films and Fine Line Features have confirmed that following its strong reception at the Sundance Film Festival, Spanish-language drama “Maria Full of Grace” will go out theatrically through the joint distribution channel established last year by the two companies.

The debut feature from writer-director Joshua Marston chronicles the dangerous physical and emotional journey of three young Colombian women who become drug mules, transporting heroin into the U.S.

“We made this movie because we wanted to make it and because we believed in Joshua as a filmmaker, but we didn’t know at the time what we wanted to do with it,” HBO Films president Colin Callender told Daily Variety.

“Sundance has become an important environment for us to gauge the temperature for a film and see how a movie plays to a particular type of audience,” he added.

HBO’s decision to take the film out theatrically marks the third consecutive year that critical attention and enthusiastic audience response at Sundance has helped dictate the commercial path of one of the cabler’s features. Previous Sundance award winners “Real Women Have Curves” and “American Splendor” were distributed through Newmarket and Fine Line, respectively.

“What struck me about this film is its incredible humanism and the way it presents the story of these women without any of the cliched gun-wielding hyperbole,” said Fine Line president Mark Ordesky. “It’s a very human-scale look at the realities of these women and of the drug trade.”

Considered among the front-runners for a top prize in the dramatic competition at Sundance, “Maria” will segue from Park City to the Berlin Film Festival, where it also will screen in competition. Following that, HBO and Fine Line will sit down to plan a release strategy.

“We want to create a campaign that’s going to co-opt the Colombian community in the same way ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ did with the Greek community,” explained Callender. “We need time to build a bedrock of support for the film.”

“It’s true that our overall deal with Fine Line did not encompass foreign-language films,” he continued. “But we were thrilled that they were as madly enthusiastic about the film as we are.”

The HBO Films-Fine Line collaboration was hatched last year to bring HBO’s marketing strengths and media relations into the theatrical arena, by partnering with an established distribution force to release distinctive, smaller-budget HBO projects and promoting brand awareness of the cable giant.

Pact has so far yielded Sundance 2003 Grand Jury Prize winner “American Splendor,” which has grossed $6.1 million, and Gus Van Sant’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Elephant,” which is at $1.4 million.

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