Over the weekend, I had the distinct opportunity of speaking with the producer of the film, Raphael “Raph” Swann, who also happens to be a long-time friend of my financial advisor and fellow actor, Robert McNeil. Raph explained that one of the challenges of producing such an ambitious project was securing the actors or rather the “non-actors” that would portray the pirates, themselves. Obviously, you can’t just walk around Somalia asking if there are any pirates who wouldn’t mind taking a film crew on their next raid. No. You’d end up in a burlap sack at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. But what you can do is take a couple Somalis from nearby Mombasa and convince ‘em (with enough shillings, of course) to let you follow ‘em around for a couple weeks, which is exactly what Raph and director, Cutter Hodierne, and co-writer, John Hibbey, ended up doing.
“Originally,” as Raph explained, “we were only supposed to be in Africa for a few weeks, but ended up staying for over five months.”
And it was anything but a walk in the park, as you can imagine. In fact, the first night they were there, Raph and friends found themselves handcuffed together and staring down the smoking ends of a couple AK-47’s, while men in military and police uniforms forced them to wade out into the Indian Ocean. It seems, during a late night stroll, the close-knit group of filmmakers wandered out onto the wrong beach front property and were apprehended and accused of trespassing.
“The whole incident was a pretty frightening experience,” explained Raph. “I had just gotten off a plane and the next thing I know I’m being handcuffed and held at gunpoint.”
Fortunately, the whole incident was over in a matter of minutes. For only 150 bucks, the guys were able to bribe their way to freedom. “That’s just the cost of doing business,” Raph explained. “Bribing people, getting robbed by cops, either legitimate policeman or not…those all just administrative fees you have to be prepared for.”
Scary stuff and not something I’m sure I’d want to stick my neck out for. But these guys are a different kind of breed. Artists, first, adventurers, a close second, this group of Indiana Jones-esque filmmakers don’t mind shedding a little blood for the sake of their art. It’s no surprise they’re going back in only a month’s time to begin principal photography on…yep, you guess it…the feature-length production. It’s gonna take some doing, but one look at the short and you’ll see why it’s definitely worth another round of roughing it in the African wilderness.
Beautifully shot with an uncanny attention to detail and authenticity, this short film feels more like a guerilla-style documentary than a work of narrative fiction. The actors or rather, “non-actors” I should say, are absolutely superb. They live, breathe, and exude all that is Somalia, simply because they are Somali’s. They don’t need to act. They’re the real thing. And I don’t know about you, but I find this sort of filmmaking so refreshing in today’s big-budget, over-produced, over-dramatized sequel-soaked comic book industry. Getting eye-level with the real thing is so much more enjoyable than watching a bunch of actors in Burbank trying to pull off authentic Somali accents in between takes of sipping Starbucks lattes.
The short has already been making waves (pun intended) in the short film festival circuit. In addition to claiming the coveted Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking at Sundance, it is also currently in the running for The Wrap’s Short Film Festival Award, which carries with it a prize of $60,000 worth of camera equipment from Panavision. You can watch the film in its entirety at http://shortlistfilmfestival.com/films/fishing-without-nets. And PLEASE PLEASE VOTE. Trust me, these guys would know what to do with $60,000 worth of camera equipment. The contest ends September 3rd. So, vote today!