In director Cutter Hodierne's VICE and Think Media-produced debut feature film, Fishing Without Nets, a poor Somali fisherman named Abdi (played by Abdikani Muktar) is desperate to find a way to provide for his family. The waters near his home have become polluted, killing off the fish. After spending his last bit of money to smuggle his wife and child out of the country, Abdi succumbs to the pressure and allure of piracy. With naturalistic performances borne mostly out of improvisation and a sweeping cinematic style, Fishing Without Nets balances art-house emotion with thrills that wouldn't seem out of place in a summer blockbuster.
Before I met Hodierne last year at the Sundance ShortsLab, I’d already heard enough about the young director to see him as a legend in the making. For starters, he was named after the 32-yard 'cutter-rigged' sailboat that he spent the first three years of his life on. Then, after a stint as U2's on-the-road cinematographer during their 360° tour, he cashed in his rockstar money and made the short film Fishing Without Nets at the ripe old age of 23. The short went on to win Sundance's Grand Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking, and it was at that point that VICE jumped on board to help expand it into a feature film.
Excited for the nationwide release of his first feature, I visited Hodierne in early October at the swanky McCarren Hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to talk about the movie. I found him in his suite sprawled across the bed watching CNN. Contentious images of Ferguson, Missouri, flashed on screen, which led us into a conversation about class and race. He asked if I’d seen “the fucked-up video of cops killing a black dude.” I asked which one, because there seem to be so many. As we watched a few horrific videos, it became clear to me that Cutter was just as fascinated with the cops as the victims. He rewound one video twice to catch the decisive moment. This must have been the same sort of compulsion that led him to become obsessed with the plight of the Somali pirates after reading a New York Times article by Jeffrey Gettleman. He originally saw the pirate’s story as a sprawling epic, much like Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic or David Simon’s series The Wire—he wanted to show every side of it.
“I wanted to do the story of the sailors on the boat, the Navy SEALs, the shipping company owners, the people laundering money in Kenya, the real estate business, and the guys who actually drop the money into the ocean,” he said. Ultimately, the one he was most interested in was the pirates. In his words, “Who the fuck would do this? Who would be this bold and actually capture a ship?”
Although Fishing Without Nets is condensed from his initial vision, it is still a microcosm of the cultural and emotional complexities of Somalia today, and is noteworthy because it's completely genuine, pressing, and fresh. A previously unreleased clip from the film is below, along with what Cutter had to say about the project. You can watch the full film here.
VICE: Fishing Without Nets started as a short film back in 2012. Did you always imagine turning it into a feature?
Cutter Hodierne: It was always meant to be a feature. It began as a short in order to explore the idea and raise money.
What made you want to tell this story?
Since 2008, I’ve wanted to do a movie about Somali pirates. I’ve never been so obsessed with something before in my life. I just really wanted to make a movie about pirates.
Why are you so obsessed with pirates?
There was a story in the New York Times in which [pirates] captured this Ukrainian tanker with military equipment. The pirates were just young kids. The government quickly discovered this wasn’t some big terrorist organization with a bunch of weapons. It was a bunch of young dudes who didn’t know exactly what they were doing, but they caused this big international incident. The pirates were fucking with people over the phone, since they didn’t know what to do. I was like, That’s what this movie should be about—the guys on the other end of the phone.
The guy who doesn’t know what he has.
…Or thinks he has something much bigger. When I went to Africa, I realized that’s what it should really be about—this misunderstanding of wealth. People were trying to take everything I had. They were trying to take my money and swindle me every way they could, which was hilarious. I didn’t have any money.
Yeah, but you’re also new and shiny to them.
I could totally see why just having the $1,500 to fly to another country would do that. Right there you have more money than they would ever have at one time. With that misunderstanding, we realized we could magnify that with a huge ship. Of course they’d think it’s worth millions of dollars—it’s an enormous ship. The truth is, the ship we filmed on was a piece of shit. It was still in business, but could’ve gone out of business in like a month. Pirates don’t know that when they attack.
That misunderstanding of worth is crazy. The pirates are so sheltered from the reality of international shipping that they only act on rumors.
Fuck, some of the ship crew get captured and held for so long. But they’re poor, so no one gives a fuck. They aren’t the people who are going to get all of the attention from the news. There were hostages in Somalia held for 24 months or 36 months. A guy just got out a couple weeks ago who had been there for three years. It’s bonkers.
Everything is a compromise. In your film’s case, the compromises never seem to go the protagonist’s way.
That’s how we’re going to advertise the film. It’s a bummer.
You have cast and crew from all over the world including Kenya, Somalia, France, the United States, and Belgium. Did you come across any class divides or differences when dealing with your local and international actors?
The differences were shown in 1,000,000 different ways while making the movie. When the European actors came on set, they acted like us—like Westerners. They can’t sleep in the same sort of bed others slept in; they need a special bed. They need more time to do everything. It was a crazy culture clash on all levels. Movies are already a hierarchy.
What were some differences in people’s approach to making the movie?
One of the most visible ways differences played out was the fact that we shot in Kenya, where Somali’s are immigrants and sort of considered second-class. There was some xenophobia on set. Sometimes some of the Kenyan crew and some of the actors would freak out if a [Somali] said something to them without the appropriate degree of respect. Those are misunderstandings I wouldn’t even be aware of, because they were both speaking a language I couldn’t understand.
Did that not knowing ever get you into trouble? Did anything ever shock you?
The whole place feels slippery. Things fall into chaos casually.
Being in a vaguely lawless place, on boats constantly…
Being on a boat all of the time is really difficult, because I get seasick. People got seasick all the time.
You’re named after a boat, made two movies about boats, and you get seasick?
I like tales of the sea. I don’t think I necessarily wanted to do this because it was at sea, but because I like pirates and they're at sea.
I just had to do it. That’s what I keep forgetting. When I try to over intellectualize why I made the movie, it was really simple: I I was excited and fascinated about piracy in a way I’d never been about anything. My other passion was to make movies. I had to make a movie about pirates. That’s it.
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