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It’s a 17th century crime with 21st century realities. Off the coast of Somalia, pirates roam the waters, hijack ships, loot cargo, and sometimes take hostages. Why this piracy exists, and what causes the desperation that leads folks into the violent and criminal world of modern-day pirating is the focus of a new short film by a young local filmmaking team. Join Kojo to find out what the world community needs to understand in order to deal with the problem.
- Cutter Hodierne Fillmmaker, director of "Fishing Without Nets"
- Bronwyn Bruton Deputy Director of the Atlantic Council's Michael S. Ansari Africa Center
Fishing Without Nets – Movie Trailer
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAside from the dramatic rescues, like the one in January by U.S. commandos of two aid workers, Somali pirate attacks aren't making the news much. But there are dozens of ships and hundreds of hostages being held for ransom right now. And March actually saw the highest number of Somali pirate hijackings in more than a year. What drives so many men into the violent and criminal world of modern-day pirating is the subject of a new short film.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIA pirate is far more likely to be killed than to successfully take a ship or be paid a ransom, but the rewards can be huge. And the temptation is enormous in famine-stricken and war-torn Somalia. Joining us to help explore the motivations and minds of those engaged in pirating is Cutter Hodierne. He is a filmmaker and the director of the short film "Fishing Without Nets." Cutter, thank you for joining us.
MR. CUTTER HODIERNEThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlso joining us in studio is Bronwyn Bruton, deputy director of the Atlantic Council's Michael S. Ansari Africa Center. Bronwyn Bruton, thank you for joining us.
MS. BRONWYN BRUTONThanks.
NNAMDIAnd we mentioned right now, "Fishing Without Nets" premiered at Sundance in the short film category. The D.C. premiere is Saturday 6:30 p.m. at the Newseum, a discussion with Cutter and a panel of experts will follow. You can find a link to the event at our website, kojoshow.org. And if you'd like to join the conversation, do you think enough is being done to address the instability and famine in Somalia that's behind the rise in modern-day piracy? You can call us at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDISend email to email@example.com. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Cutter, the main character in your film is a Somali fisherman who is under pressure to join a group of men who hijack ships. What is his story?
HODIERNEWell, the story is about Abdi, who's in real life is 17-year-old Somali refugee living in Kenya. And it's a fictional film. And he's basically, you know, a young struggling guy in, you know, living in Somalia who's having to take care of his family, most specifically he has a sick daughter.
NNAMDIBronwyn, the implication here is that there is such desperation that a life of violence and crime are among the only options to survive. How common is the scenario that Cutter just described?
BRUTONIt is common in Somalia. And, you know, I think one thing to keep in mind is that it's more common in the far south of the country than it is in the north, Puntland, where piracy has flourished most. You know, in Somalia, you're talking about an unemployment rate sometimes as high as 80 percent. You're talking about endemic poverty. You're talking about a country that hasn't had a government for 20-plus years.
BRUTONAnd even if people can afford to, you know, to escape a life of violence and crime, what's really devastating is the lack of any productive employment. So they, you know, they're going to be poor and bored, and it's a lower level desperation.
NNAMDICutter, in the film there are some fairly powerful exchanges, one in which a man named Chine (sp?) is trying to convince Abdi, the main character, to join a pirate crew. Abdi says, I'm not a criminal. His friend Chine responds, the way we live is a crime. At another point Abdi says, if I fish with violence, will my net be full of blood? You were 20 years old. Where do you get the insight to write those kinds of scenes?
HODIERNEWell, I will definitely give some good credit to co-writers on the film. The way we live is a crime -- that was mine. I'll take that. But, seriously, it was really -- I had a profound experience going there and...
NNAMDIWhat started you on this odyssey? What caused you to embark on this?
HODIERNEYeah. Basically, back in 2008, I got very obsessed with the topic of Somali pirates, specifically with pieces that were being written by Jeffrey Gettleman, who, I think, just won a...
HODIERNE...Pulitzer Prize the other day. And I was just drawn in immediately by who are these guys? You know, that this -- they were young guys who seem to have sort of these multimillion dollar companies, you know, by the throat and in many cases seem to kind of be haphazard and not -- in very much over their head. And so I got just intrigued as a filmmaker to make a movie from the perspective of the guys making -- doing this, you know?
HODIERNEAnd basically, you know, we decided that the only way that I could accurately portray the story, you know, being from Washington, D.C., I could not sort of write a story like this living in Washington. I felt like I had to go there and spend time with some, you know, in that world to some extent and...
NNAMDIWe're talking with Cutter Hodierne. He is a filmmaker and the director of the short film "Fishing Without Nets." Also joining is in studio is Bronwyn Bruton, deputy director of the Atlantic Council's Michael S. Ansari African Center. If you have questions or comments, some people are fascinated by the idea of modern-day pirates, what do you think? 800-433-8850, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Cutter, the fisherman doesn't actually catch any fish. Is there an issue you're alluding to with the state of fishing as it currently exist in Somalia?
HODIERNEYeah. I think that there's a lot said -- I think you would agree -- that, you know, about there being a lot of illegal fishing and overfishing and waste being, you know, dumped in the waters in Somalia and nobody being there, really, to be able to stop it, I think, is a motivation for piracy that began as something that, you know, a lot of the pirates were saying was their motivation for doing it. And that -- I think that may have been the case early on and -- at least for a certain percentage of the pirates.
HODIERNEBut I think, after a while, that's become more of a way of justifying this crime because they don't have another option and see this as the best option and still sort of use that as an excuse. But I think in the movie, I didn't want to directly say this guy is turning to piracy because he can't catch fish because foreign nations have come and taken all the fish. But I wanted to hint that he was not catching fish, and he was not able to feed his family.
HODIERNEWhether that was a result of the fishing or not, overfishing or just the fact that he was having bad luck, I wanted to keep that vague but -- to show that, you know, maybe that was the case, maybe it wasn't. But...
NNAMDIBu, Bronwyn Bruton, we cannot ignore the larger context here. Somalia is generally referred to -- viewed as a fail state. And piracy in Somalia has got to be tied to the past 20 years of conflict and civil war. Remind us of the exact circumstances we're talking about here in Somalia.
BRUTONWell, Somalia is a country that has very distinct regions, and the piracy has flourished up in the north, which is actually fairly stable. It has a more or less functioning government, although the government's reach is very limited. Then if you're talking about a country as a whole, this is a country that, you know, went through a very violent civil war in 1990, ended 1991. It's the country of "Black Hawk Down," which everyone remembers.
BRUTONAnd it's a country that's very recently gone through the worst famine that the region has seen in at least 20 years. So it's also an area that's currently under the control of an al-Qaida-linked militia, a good part of it.
BRUTONSo this is a really tough neighborhood, so to speak.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Let's go to Kadhany (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Kadhany, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KADHANYHello. Yes. Thank you very much, Kojo. Kojo, allow me to make a connection over the previous issue that we have about critical thinking. Why is the media not telling us about the cause rather than the effect? That's my first -- one question. And the second question...
NNAMDIWhat do you see, Kadhany, as the cause?
KADHANYWell, because the Somali sovereignty is not respected by the regional and international forces.
NNAMDIIndeed, I suspect, Cutter, that that's something you may have heard. Some people say, as you pointed out earlier, it's being used as an excuse. But Kadhany obviously sees it as a reason, that Somali sovereignty is not respected by international forces. So why should Somalis respect international sovereignty? I'm guessing that's something you heard.
HODIERNEYeah. I heard a lot of things like that, and I can't completely disagree with that as a whole. I think I continue to take the stance that I'm trying to see it from both sides. But I do really -- you know, I really do believe that if you are living in a place where they are not sort of taking seriously your, you know, attempts to stabilize and become something bigger, that is a very disrespectful feeling.
NNAMDILet me give you a quote from the film: "Twenty years of war. Those of us who remain must find a way to survive." That's a perspective that most of us do not have about Somali pirates. How do you come -- how and why did you decide to approach this from the point of view of the pirates?
HODIERNEFirst and foremost, I was just more interested in that angle. I wasn't as interested in, you know, Navy SEALs rescuing, you know, an American ship captain, or I wasn't interested in telling a story about some sailors on a ship who get captured. To me, what stood out was, who are these guys, and why are they doing it?
HODIERNEAnd even further to that point, I felt like the angle of the -- from the perspective of the pirates from an -- in a non-fiction piece, meaning, you know, a piece of journalism or a documentary was never going to get that access, no matter how hard they tried, unless it was literally produced by the pirates. And many attempts have been made. Nobody could get on a boat and go capture a ship with Somali pirates, and so -- but they could get on and embed with the navy.
HODIERNEOr they could get on and do, you know, these other things that might sort of see the story a little bit. But, to me, that was another angle, was that this was the untold angle, and I wanted to go and show what I thought was, number one, a more interesting angle, and, number two, the one that wasn't sort of being told.
NNAMDIIndeed, Bronwyn Bruton, even though this is fictional, it comes from a point of view that we don't see reported in our media at all, the point of view of the Somali pirate themselves or himself. What did you think of the perspective of the film offered here?
BRUTONI thought it was pretty realistic, to be honest. I was really impressed by it. And, you know, I have to reinforce that this issue of the illegal fishing and toxic waste dumping, which Somalis have said is a cause of piracy, is something that really does need to be addressed by the international community. And it's not even a question of whether it's a real issue or not.
BRUTONIt's a perception among the Somalis that this is a problem. And the international navies really need to address it because we're not going to solve our problems with the Somalis if we can't engage them honestly and take their concerns seriously.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation about inside the lives of Somali pirates about the film "Fishing Without Nets." The D.C. premiere is Saturday, 6:30 p.m. at the Museum. If you have questions or comments, 800-433-8850, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow, email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Cutter Hodierne. He is a filmmaker and the director of the short film "Fishing Without Nets." It premiered at Sundance in the short film category. It premieres in D.C. at 6:30 p.m. at the Museum on Saturday. A discussion with Cutter and a panel of experts will follow. Also in studio with us is Bronwyn Bruton, deputy director of the Atlantic Council's Michael S. Ansari Africa Center. Cutter, there's a lot of extreme poverty in this movie. The scenes in the slums are powerful. It's supposed to be set where?
HODIERNEIt's supposed to be set in Somalia, not a specific town but in Somalia. But we actually filmed the movie in and around Mombasa, Kenya, so about 60 miles south of the border, cast all with Somali refugees who are living there.
NNAMDIWho are living there. During the break, Bronwyn Bruton, you made an important point that, I think, we should share with our audience, and that is how Somalis, even cabinet members in the Somali government -- what there is of it -- how they describe or characterize the pirates.
BRUTONYeah. I mean, basically, I think their perception is -- and ministers have espoused this view publicly on the radio -- is that there's two kinds of pirates in Somalia. There's, you know, the Somali pirates who are poor boys who have been, you know, talked into going on the water by older guys who should know better, and, you know, they're really poor, mislead souls. And then there's the other pirates, the dangerous pirates who are the international fishing vessels and the international naval forces who are surrounding Somalia.
NNAMDIThat is their view.
BRUTONIt is. You know, a lot of people do see the pirates as Robin Hood types, and a lot of youth especially see them as pretty glamorous guys.
NNAMDII'm glad you got to that because modern-day pirates hold none of the romance of the Blackbeards that we re-imagined from the past. And your film, while it explores motives, doesn't grant any romance to these characters. Do you think there are any similarities between modern-day pirates and the romanticized pirates of yore? Because Bronwyn just indicated that, to some extent, some of these guys are really admired in Somalia.
HODIERNEI think to the extent that there are -- that it's seen as a, you know, a fruitful option, where you could quickly make lots of money and become popular, you know, I think that -- I think in that sense, you know, living that kind of pirate lifestyle, there's some connection, you know, to the romanticized pirates of old.
HODIERNEBut I think, you know, I think that was the feeling I got with a couple of the characters who, you know, just in real life, that they -- you know, off-camera, off-set, you know, were -- listened to American hip-hop music, had a sense of what Western culture and gold chains and, you know, rappers look like. And there was a feeling that that was sort of the end that they were going for from potentially becoming a pirate, you know, was that there would be this sort of, you know, image that is influenced a lot by Western culture.
NNAMDIBut, Bronwyn Bruton, that coin has two sides. On the one side, there's the coin that Cutter just described, and that is these are, to some extent, the only people who have money to flash in Somalia are the pirates. The other side of that coin is how highly dangerous this is and how many people die attempting it. Can you talk about that?
BRUTONYeah. I mean, if you talk to officials in -- both diplomats and in the shipping industry, the belief is that the death rate for pirates is as high as four in 10. And those are bad odds. I mean, that's worse that Russian roulette.
NNAMDIThat's 40 percent, yes.
BRUTONYeah. Yeah. And I think it gives the sense of the desperation that is really fundamentally underlying this. And it's important because a lot of people, a lot of governments -- and the United Nations, even -- have really stressed that in order to stop piracy we need to prosecute pirates. And the idea that prosecution is going to be a disincentive when people are already facing a 40 percent chance of dying in a terrible way, I think, is really unrealistic, and it shows we have to shift the focus.
NNAMDIOn to the phones, here's Ibrahim (sp?) in Loudoun County, Va. Ibrahim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
IBRAHIMThank you so very much, Kojo, for taking my call, and thank you to the filmmakers for really bringing the untold story about the piracy. I am Somali-American, and I wanted to mention first that the dumping, the toxic dumping is not only a perception. It's a reality that has been investigated in 2008, but they stopped the investigation for some reason, without the results.
IBRAHIMBut what I want to talk about is we talk about these pirates and how they get so much money, how -- and how young they are. But no one really gives serious investigation as to the possible intelligence behind the piracy. How do they attack the ships? How do they attack? How do they know what ships to attack? Is there intelligence behind this piracy, in your view?
NNAMDIWell, we have an image of Somali pirates as having the latest equipment, GPS, heavy weaponry. Ibrahim's question suggests that they probably have access to some fairly sophisticated form of intelligence. But is that the reality as far as you know, Cutter? Is that the reality as far as you know, Bronwyn Bruton?
BRUTONYou know, I think it's a mixed bag. I think you have some pretty low-level pirate operation. Especially when piracy first started, you really needed, you know, a couple thousand dollars' worth of, you know, a good engine and some guns to go out and capture a ship. But it's turning into a much more difficult game now, and, you know, we don't necessarily have a great idea of what the pirates are doing.
BRUTONThere are radio towers going up in weird places that people are speculating are potentially going to be used to triangulate signals from naval ships so that the pirates can figure out exactly where the international forces are. Other people...
NNAMDIAnd the shipping lines have responded with all kinds of measures that make it now very, very difficult to do this unless you truly have sophisticated equipment and weaponry.
BRUTONOr if you get really, really lucky, and, you know, there's always a few expensive ships on the water that just aren't paying attention when they should be. But more and more, you know, it's worth pointing out that the pirates are increasingly not catching the big European flagged vessels. They're getting poor fishing boats from India. You know, these are the ones they're really preying on. And even Somali commercial shippers are feeling the pirates...
NNAMDIYou mentioned earlier the dangers involved, and that means we should change our approach to this, that, instead of thinking that by criminalizing this, we can somehow make people stop, but I'm -- I understand there's a campaign to try to push back against the allure of piracy?
BRUTONThere is. I mean, there -- you cannot even count the number of international donors who are, you know, for example, paying for radio programs to get Islamic leaders, for example, and clan elders on the radio waves to talk about how bad piracy is for Somalia. And those things are worthwhile endeavors. I don't mean to be wholly critical of them, but they're not a substitute for economic development. And that's what the international community has to do.
NNAMDIAfraid we're running out of time very quickly. Back to you, Cutter, you shot this film in Mombasa. How did you cast it? These were -- were these nonprofessional actors, people who just happened to be living there?
HODIERNEYeah, they were all guys who we met on the street. Chine, as you mentioned, Chine Boi, who's -- it's actually a mispronunciation of China because his eyes were sort of slanted, and so they'd given him the nickname.
NNAMDIThat was his nickname, yeah.
HODIERNEAnd he signed it. You know, everything he put his name down, that was what he put. But it was a combination of meeting guys on the street. We would hang out at these Somali hangouts where they would chew khat and just hang out all day. So we would go and meet those guys. We held a few sort of informal auditions. At one point, we had our entire cast quit in what was a sort of labor union, you know, issue.
NNAMDIYou had a job action?
HODIERNEYeah. And we had to recast the whole thing, you know, in a matter of a day. And -- but we did end up being able to spend a lot of time with these guys because we -- it was supposed to be a five-week trip, and it turned into three-and-a-half months. So we ended up spending, you know...
NNAMDIHow challenging was it to make a film where the actors are speaking a language, presumably, that you don't understand?
HODIERNEIt was very difficult. It was the most difficult thing I've done to date. And it was funny because, many times, it was almost like playing a game of telephone in directing actors because we weren't always fortunate enough to have a -- an English and Somali speaker. So we would sometimes go English to Swahili, Swahili to Somali, to the actor.
HODIERNEAnd so now I've -- you lose a lot of nuance in your ability to direct when you just have to sort of get it in three words, what you want. And so now I imagine, you know, working with an English-speaking actor, they're going to be probably uncharacteristically direct to the point.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid we're just about out of time. "Fishing Without Nets" premieres in D.C. this Saturday, 6:30 p.m., at the Newseum. A discussion with the director and a panel of experts will follow. I know you're not 20 years old. You're a little older than that because -- by the way, how did your mom like the film?
HODIERNEI think she's a fan. I hope.
NNAMDIYou think she's OK with it? Can I tell who -- can I say who she is?
HODIERNEGo ahead, yeah.
NNAMDIAlicia Shepard, former ombudsman for NPR, is the mother of Cutter Hodierne. Bronwyn Bruton, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIBronwyn Bruton is the deputy director of the Atlantic Council's Michael S. Ansari Africa Center. Thank you all for listening. As I said earlier, you can find links at our website, kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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