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Studio: HBO Films/Fine Line Features (released July 16)

Category: Original

Storyline: When a 17-year-old Colombian girl, with dreams of escaping her small town, traffics heroin to the United States, the trip is far more perilous — and permanent — than she expected.

About the script: A taut and touching drama, “Maria Full of Grace” is skillfully split into three parts: First set in Colombia, the film paints a vivid portrait of Maria, a young woman navigating young love and life among the rose plantations and factory work. Then, Maria takes her harrowing flight to America. Lastly, we observe Maria’s struggles in New York. After writing a first draft in 1999, Marston, who also directed, spent two years researching his story, the realities of the drug trade and the immigrant’s plight. “One of the lessons I learned about writing a political script is that I had to stay true to Maria’s subjective experience. That was the reigning principal,” says Marston. “What would she truly see or hear or smell or taste at any given moment and to trust the politics would percolate through.”

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Biggest challenge: “Understanding this 17-year-old Colombian girl, because I was never a 17-year-old Colombian girl,” says Marston.

Breakthrough idea: “One of the original hooks was this notion of what it would look like to imagine four women on a plane who were all drug mules and who were all reliant on another and who were all in competition with each other,” Marston says.

Standout scene: When Maria and her fellow drug smugglers endure that plane ride to America with dozens of heroin pellets in their stomachs, the suspense and tension in the air is excruciatingly palpable. As sweat gathers on their brows, each woman struggles to keep her cool and her digestive system under control.

Choice lines: When Maria asks Lucy what America is like, Lucy answers: “It’s like too perfect. Everything’s straight.”

Writer’s bio: “Maria Full of Grace” is Marston’s first screenplay and his directorial debut. He received an MA in political science from the U. of Chicago and an MFA in filmmaking at New York U.