Sundance: Filming 'Fishing Without Nets,' about Somali pirates, was a drama in itself

"Fishing Without Nets"

On Raphael Swann's first night in Kenya, where he'd gone to help produce a dramatic short about Somali pirates called Fishing Without Nets, he found himself being handcuffed to director Cutter Hodierne and forced, by armed men in military and police uniforms, to wade out into the Indian Ocean. Swann, already delirious from jet lag, didn't know quite what was happening — except that he might die. At least I'm not going to die alone, he thought.


Meanwhile, Hodierne, Swann's friend since high school (Arlington's H-B Woodlawn), was looking down the barrel of an AK-47 and thinking, Holy shit, this experience just got really real, really fast. Not that these armed men, who may or may not have been actual soldiers and policemen, necessarily intended to murder them. Rather, Hodierne thought he might be shot accidentally while the men argued amongst themselves about what to do.

"It was an extremely, extremely hyper scenario. I definitely freaked out at the sight of these guys," says 29-year-old producer John Hibey, who was also there, cuffed to an expat who'd invited them to hang out at a nearby resort. The four of them had gone for a stroll on the beach, and now they were being held at gunpoint, accused of trespassing, and possibly about to be killed, accidentally or otherwise. That's when Hodierne heard, off in the distance:

It's a beautiful day
Sky falls, you feel like
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away

A U2 cover band was performing at the resort. Hodierne knew the music all too well, as his previous job had been to document the band's 360° Tour. "And here I am, the same song is going to be the soundtrack to my death in Africa,” he says.

That tour was the very reason Hodierne — who, like Swann, is just 25 years old — was able to film in Africa. When setting out to shoot a short film, a typical young, self-financed American filmmaker taps friends to act (or at least hold a boom) and films in apartments, public parks, friendly bars and restaurants — anything to keep the film's budget as close to zero as possible. Not Hodierne. With the money he'd earned on the 360° Tour, he decided to act on his fascination with Somali pirates, which had begun in 2008, when he was living in the Shaw neighborhood. "I was reading every article that came out, and I was like, 'Man, I want to make a movie about Somali pirates, but from the perspective of Somali pirates,'” says Hodierne, who moved out to L.A. the following year.

His resume, which begins with his dropping out of Emerson College after freshman year, also includes a number of music videos shot in D.C., like Chuck Brown's "The Party Roll." But his work experience, though impressive for his age, hardly prepared him for shooting a 17-minute film on the coast of Kenya, with mostly untrained Somali refugees and Kenyans as his actors. Asked if he was a little in over his head, Hodierne says, "Not a little bit in over my head — a lot in over my head. I didn't necessarily know what I'd signed myself up for.” He later describes the trip as a "painful, painful process. Cops are robbing you, and you’re bribing people — just one unexpected administrative fee after another. A total nightmare."

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