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Colombian Film Shows the Other Side of Drugs

Colombian Film Shows the Other Side of Drugs

The average American mainly associates Colombia with three concepts: drugs, leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries. This flawed assumption has been reinforced by years of military and financial aid from the US government aimed at curtailing imports of Colombian cocaine. American writer-director Joshua Marston challenges these preconceptions in his first feature film, Maria Full of Grace.

Marston puts a human face on the drug-trade as he chronicles the story of Maria, a 17-year-old Colombian girl who quits her low-paying job cutting flowers in the outskirts of Bogata to smuggle cocaine into the United States as a drug ‘mule.’Her quest for monetary gain, however, is complicated on her arrival in New York City, as she struggles to come to terms with the brutal underworld reality of drug-smuggling. Provocative, yet often charming, Maria Full of Grace recounts a strikingly personal tale of the drug trade and highlights the plight of impoverished Colombians who easily fall prey to exploitation by Colombia’s organized crime rings.

A thought-provoking and must-see film for enthusiasts of Latin American affairs, Maria Full of Grace advances a necessary discussion of the plight of innocents caught up on all sides of the drug-trade. Last year, U.S. Customs detained 145 drug mules attempting to smuggle cocaine into this country from Colombia, representing only a small fraction of those who successfully make it into the country. Drawn from all age-groups and sectors of society, the common element uniting these hapless drug carriers is their desperation to escape the poverty cycle that afflicts both their communities and their personal lives. Through his film, Marston highlights the social facets of an issue that affects Colombia’s impoverished majority, stressing the need to better address the humanitarian causes, not solely the violent consequences, of the drug-trade.

The first Spanish language film to win the Audience Award at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, Maria Full of Grace went on to win further international acclaim on the festival circuit. It also was well received in Colombia, winning five awards at this year’s Cartagena Film Festival including Best Colombian Film -- despite the fact that it was produced largely in Ecuador by an American director. More importantly, the film has changed a number of traditional perspectives on this inherently divisive and often over-simplified issue through its human portrayal of those caught up in Colombia’s vicious drug-trade.

Maria Full of Grace will be released in theaters on July 16 in New York and Los Angeles, and on July 30 in Washington, D.C., Miami, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Seattle, Minneapolis, San Diego, Denver, Portland, Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston.

This review was prepared by Kirstin Kramer and Mark Scott, COHA Research Associates

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