María llena de gracia eres


What ideas do you get from the cover? What images or words are being played with? What expectations do you have of this film?

A film of “firsts”
It was the first feature film produced by Joshua Marston. It was actress Catalina Sandino Moreno’s first role; she won Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival in 2004 and became the first nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards for a role spoken entirely in Spanish.

With steady sunshine and cheap labor, Colombian farms yield $1 billion in exports, dominating the United States market. Read more: Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

In 1967 David Cheever, a graduate student in horticulture at Colorado State University, wrote a term paper titled “Bogotá, Colombia as a Cut-Flower Exporter for World Markets.” The paper suggested that the savanna near Colombia’s capital was an ideal place to grow flowers to sell in the United States.

Bogotá was just a three-hour flight from Miami—closer to East Coast customers than California, the center of the U.S. flower industry.

The Colombian flower industry:


The Colombian cartels
Since the 1970's, Colombia has been home to some of the most violent and sophisticated drug trafficking organizations in the world. What started as a small cocaine smuggling business has, in the last thirty years, blossomed into an enormous multi-national cocaine empire. Traffickers today have enough capital under their control to build sophisticated smuggling equipment, such as a high tech submarine that was recently discovered by the Colombian National Police.

The emphasis of the film
As a non-Colombian, Marston researched family structure and social activities, and the work involved on flower plantations, in order to begin to understand what would propel someone to get involved with the drug trade.

He decided to focus on the human story as opposed to the drug story, and place it within a context of real social issues.

Drug mules

72 bags of cocaine, 830 g, $200,000+

10 facts on drug mules
Drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, are often placed in condoms, and are then swallowed by a drug mule in order to evade detection by customs officials. An average drug mule can swallow between 80 – 125 of these pellets. These would contain a total of 800g – 1,25kg. Apart from imprisonment, the biggest danger to a drug mule is the possibility of the rupturing of one of these pellets. Stomach acids can sometimes cause this. Death is usually very quick, as the quantity of drugs ingested is so high. Heart failure and breathing problems are usually the cause of death. Drug mules often take medication to inhibit bowel movements for the flight. Sometimes they are also given tablets to reduce acid production in the stomach. Once on the other side, they are given laxatives and the pellets pass through their digestive systems. If they are caught by customs officials, they are often locked in a room where there is a receptacle of some sort and they stay there until they have passed all the pellets.

Things that alert customs officials include the following: a passenger who appears to be overweight (and who might have strapped drugs onto their bodies); a passenger who is exceptionally nervous; a woman travelling alone, who has little luggage and is not dressed for the expected weather conditions in the country of destination; passengers who carry gifts or parcels for other people.
X-rays, urine tests and sniffer dogs are used to detect the presence of drugs.

A drug mule could earn as little as $3 000 or less for a trip. Drug lords, who commission the mules, can sometimes make 100 times more than that when selling the drugs brought in by the mules.

The majority of drug mules are male, but the number of women doing this, is on the increase. The women are often from poor communities and are viewed as dispensable by the drug lords. Drug mules are usually in their twenties or thirties, but people up to the age of 72 have been caught doing this.
In one year (2002/2003) at J.F. Kennedy airport in New York, 145 drug mules were intercepted. Of these, 38 were female and 107 were male. Drugs wrapped in condoms can also be stored in the rectum. Drugs have also been transported in suitcases with false bottoms, in babies’ nappies, inside hollow statues, strapped to the body of the mule, or inside containers such as shampoo bottles, to name but a few.

In several countries drug trafficking is a capital offence. These include Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi-Arabia and Vietnam.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated November 2011)(Sources:;;

What to watch for / think about
• Is this an “anti-drug” film? • How does María’s character develop? • What are the Biblical references or allegories presented? • Do you see any similarities to a documentary in the style of filmmaking? • The portrayal of NYC

group discussion
• Do you agree with this statement by the director: There are probably certain universals of a 17-year old’s life that cut across culture and economics.” Explain • How “real” did this film seem and what made it so (or not)? • How is NYC portrayed (in comparison to María’s hometown and the NYC that you know)? • Does the film justify María’s decisions and actions? Do you sympathize with her or any of the other characters?

Writing assignment
• You have a friend, acquaintance, public figure or family member you feel is out of control, or about to become so. • Write a conversation you would have with this person recommending that he / she watch this film. • Continue the conversation after the film has been viewed. • @2 pages.

For next week
I will be sending you a Survey Monkey or something like that to choose between several options. I will include brief descriptions of each choice. I just can’t decide!

Once the decision is made I will send along any relevant background materials.

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