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Careful plan helped ‘Maria’ nab worldwide noms

Quick study

A subtitled Spanish-language film starring an unknown Colombian actress directed by a little-known helmer-scribe with a July release would be a definite long shot for awards consideration in most years.

Joshua Marston’s “Maria Full of Grace” provides a case study on how a small pic went from a Sundance Film Festival premiere all the way to an actress Oscar nom for Catalina Sandino Moreno.

“The film came out in July and was very well received and reviewed,” says Marian Koltai-Levine, former exec VP of marketing at Fine Line, which distributed the film, and now exec VP of marketing at Picturehouse Films. “What ended up happening was the film continuously held up against scrutiny. And as much as we think we can manipulate the system, there was a grassroots, organic groundswell of support.”

Propelled by Moreno’s performance, the film’s 48 nods (SAG and Spirit among them) and 27 kudos included a tie for Silver Bear for actress at Berlin. Sharing the award with Moreno: “Monster’s” Charlize Theron. “Really early on, that award gave us a leg up and moved Moreno from unknown status,” contends Picturehouse’s Dennis O’Connor, who also worked on the film’s campaign while an exec at Fine Line.

“Our strategy was to keep the film out there as much as possible, to keep visibility up,” O’Connor adds.

Part of the effort was to make it understood that Moreno was indeed acting.

“Catalina comes from an upper-class Colombian family. The character is really not her. We tried to distinguish her own background. While there are similarities, she’s not a drug runner who grew up poor,” O’Connor notes.

Although the film did not earn a Golden Globe nod, critical support was across the board and ranged from most top 10 lists, a Broadcast Film Critics’ nod to Seattle, Los Angeles and New York critics’ associations prizes.

Both marketing execs credit director Marston and his lead actress with working tirelessly to promote the film, taking advantage of every opportunity, whether a festival screening with Q&A, panel or other film-related events.

“They would talk to 15 to 1,500 people, and that kind of sincerity and passion is contagious,” Koltai-Levine says.

Also crucial to the film’s award-season chances: a timely homevideo release and wide distribution of screeners, putting the film in the position to be discovered.

Adds Koltai-Levine, “I feel really strongly that all you can ask someone to do is to make an educated vote. Our goal was to make it the top of the must-see DVD list.”

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