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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

It is no easy task for a filmmaker's first feature to reach the Sundance Festival, and the movie "Mosquita y Mari" traveled a long road to get there this year. It's a bilingual film about a friendship between two Latina teenagers. The director, Aurora Guerrero, spent years working a day job while she polished the script. And then she approached two communities to get the film made: an online network for independent film and the residents of the L.A. neighborhood where the movie is set. Nishat Kurwa has the filmmaker's story.

NISHAT KURWA, BYLINE: Two friends are lying on the hood of a car in the abandoned chop shop that serves as their private hideout. One stares up at a cluster of tree branches through a gap in the sheet metal ceiling.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MOSQUITA Y MARI")

VENECIA TRONCOSO: (as Mari) Ten years from now, I'm going to save up and visit my grandma in Jalapa, Mexico. By then, who cares if I can't make it back?

KURWA: That's Mari, a scrappy, hard-knock kid of a single mom who arrived undocumented in Los Angeles. The girl nicknamed Mosquita is a studious, reserved only child of two doting parents.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MOSQUITA Y MARI")

FENESSA PINEDA: (as Mosquita) Ten years from now, I want...

TRONCOSO: (as Mari) Be a doctor or a lawyer?

PINEDA: (as Mosquita) I don't even know.

TRONCOSO: (as Mari) Maybe a truck driver?

PINEDA: (as Mosquita) You going to ride with me?

TRONCOSO: (as Mari) You can take me to my grandma. You can stay if you want.

KURWA: Writer-director Aurora Guerrero was 13 when she met the girl whose friendship inspired the film.

AURORA GUERRERO: It was what I look back on as a really beautiful love story that we had when we were young.

KURWA: A love story that haunted her.

GUERRERO: Because we never put words to it. I never talked about her. I never gave it its proper place in my life as my first love.

KURWA: After film school, Guerrero began converting those memories into a screenplay. But she had bills and was from a working-class background. Being a writer full time was out. So Guerrero supported herself with another talent: community building. First, she worked at a film institute, building up her network of indie directors in the process, and then on neighborhood campaigns with Latino moms in Los Angeles. But she didn't abandon Mosquita and Mari's story. After almost seven years of writing on the side, she had a screenplay, a screenplay she couldn't get financed.

GUERRERO: And so that's when I'd turned to my communities, and everything changed.

KURWA: Guerrero decided to crowd-source the entire production budget for "Mosquita y Mari."

YANCEY STRICKLER: She came to Kickstarter looking to raise $80,000, and to be honest, I thought that goal was high.

KURWA: Yancey Strickler founded Kickstarter for people like Guerrero, who wanted to pitch directly to the public for funds. With only two days left, Guerrero's campaign looked daunting: She still had $35,000 to go. But then her supporters swung into action.

GUERRERO: I mean, it was just wild. People were actually Twittering and Facebooking, rooting for "Mosquita y Mari" to make it.

STRICKLER: From the jaws of defeat came this great victory. It is still, to date, the largest comeback that we've seen of any project on the site. No one has made up a gap that big, that late, except for Aurora.

KURWA: After the money was raised, another rush was on: to finish production in 30 days and enter the Sundance Film Festival. Guerrero crowd-sourced again. She presented a production plan to residents in Huntington Park, the East L.A. neighborhood where the film is set.

GUERRERO: I wanted to develop an internship program that every head of the creative departments had to mentor. And I wanted to give youth in the area specifically an opportunity to be exposed to the making of an independent feature, especially with the majority people of color crew.

KURWA: Nearly all the young people in the film live in Huntington Park, and one of the lead actresses is from the area too. Industrious teens scouted and secured shooting locations, often at a discount. All this goodwill that spilled out from Guerrero's diverse, overlapping networks was crucial for "Mosquita y Mari" to reach Sundance. And it's clear why they wanted it to succeed. The film transcends predictable slices of audience. And who doesn't want to relive the intensity of the first time they fell in love?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MOSQUITA Y MARI")

PINEDA: (as Mosquita) You know that guy from the other day? Well, he asked me to be his girlfriend.

TRONCOSO: (as Mari) He's more stupider than I thought.

PINEDA: (as Mosquita) Well, maybe I should say yes.

TRONCOSO: (as Mari) Why not?

PINEDA: (as Mosquita) If you don't want me to, I won't.

TRONCOSO: (as Mari) I already told you what I think.

PINEDA: (as Mosquita) Yeah. But...

TRONCOSO: (as Mari) Who cares? Just say yes. I got real things to be thinking about.

KURWA: The two friends can't dive headlong into their nascent romance because they're dealing with issues like the eviction notice at Mari's house and the relentless focus on Mosquita's academic performance. Guerrero's first love, her Mari, now lives in the Bay Area, not far from Guerrero. They met up a few years back, and the woman told Guerrero about her life with her husband and children. But Guerrero has never told the woman the film is based on their friendship.

GUERRERO: Even if we don't put a label on it, it doesn't take away what it was. And it was very special, and it was very intimate, and it changed my life. It might not have changed hers, but it changed mine.

KURWA: "Mosquita y Mari" was just picked up by a distributor and will be in theaters later this year. For NPR News, I'm Nishat Kurwa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: That story came to us from Turnstyle News, a project of Youth Radio.

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