Screenwriter/Director Dito Montiel with Robert Downey Jr. and Rosario Dawson on the set of A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. Photo by Walter Thomson.

Say you grew up in the working-class neighborhood of Astoria, Queens. You got kicked out of school for fighting and spent all of your time with your friends getting into trouble around the neighborhood. Some of your friends wound up in jail, on drugs or—worse—dead, while others encouraged you to take a different path. Twenty years later, you turned your story into a book which was turned into a movie that you also happened to direct. This is the story of Dito Montiel, whose A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (opening on September 29th) ended up nabbing the Best Director award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.In penning his first film, Montiel has managed the tricky feat of translating his story from page to screen in a way that is both artful and honest. Formerly the lead singer of the hardcore band Gutterboy, Montiel has crossed over into film with startling ease. With help from the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, he honed his script for Guide into a gritty coming-of-age story in the tradition of films like The Basketball Diaries and Raising Victor Vargas. With an impressive cast, which includes Robert Downey Jr., Dianne Wiest and Shia LaBeouf, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints brings Montiel’s story to life. While, for the time being, Montiel has no future film projects lined up, his lightning-fast rise to the top of the indie food chain is an inspiration to all aspiring moviemakers. Here’s hoping that Montiel’s screenwriting (and directing) career is more than just a flash in the pan.

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