Though he grew up near Hollywood and was interested in photography in high school, Marston had no initial ambitions to become a filmmaker. He describes his amazement when a fellow senior in high school announced his intention of going to USC to study filmmaking: "I thought, 'People go to college to study movies?' I was that naive." He embarked on a Ph.D. track in political science but grew to hate it. So he left with his master's degree, and by a circuitous route that included time spent living in Paris, Prague, Tokyo, Vietnam and Ecuador, he ended up in film school at NYU, where he made a couple of shorts. It was at NYU that Mezey and Marston first crossed paths ("He doesn't remember me," says Marston, "but I remember him"), though it wasn't until a mutual friend bumped into Mezey, whose father had grown up in Colombia, on a train from Philadelphia to New York and mentioned Marston's script that the project took off. Maria Full of Grace was made for $3 million, an enviable budget for a first feature.
"That's my eternal gratitude to HBO," says Marston, "that they were able to rise to the challenge of making a film, in Spanish, by a first-time director with an unknown cast, for twice the budget that we would have been able to raise on our own." Initially, HBO told Mezey and Marston their movie would never have a theatrical release, but the unexpected success last year of Patricia Cardoso's Real Women Have Curves, about a young LA Chicana trying to get into college, had changed all that by the time they started shooting. Whether the far grimmer Maria Full of Grace will achieve the same success with Latino or general audiences is an open question.
But when Marston, who was nervous that the Colombian-Americans would reject the movie out of hand because of its subject matter, screened the movie for community bigwigs in New York, they embraced it. "What people in the Colombian community are saying is that even though the movie is about the drug trade, it humanizes those who get caught up in it."
Maria Full of Grace was written and directed by Joshua Marston; produced by Paul Mezey; and Stars Catalina Sandino Moreno, Guilied Lopez, Yenny Peola Vega and Orlando Tobón. Now playing at Edwards South Coast Village, Santa Ana.