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Sundance Preview: Vice-Produced 'Fishing Without Nets' is a Different Breed of Somali Pirate Movie

Fishing Without Nets Film Still - H 2014

Shot over 77 days along the coast of Kenya, Cutter Hodierne classifies his ambitious first feature as “action art house" cinema.

The Sundance Film Festival is a mecca for independent cinema and a pool of fresh filmmaking talent. But with nearly 200 films selected for exhibition, it can be a dizzying game of catch up. So this year, The Hollywood Reporter decided to do a bit of prep work for you: Here's the who/what/where/when/why on a film worth putting on your radar.

Yes, Cutter Hodierne is his real name. Yes, he was named after a 32-foot "cutter-rigged" sailboat that his parents sold everything to buy so they could spend three years sailing the South Pacific. Yes, he's every bit of the adventurer required to be named Cutter Hodierne.

Hodierne's debut feature Fishing Without Nets premieres at the Sundance Film Festival's Library Theatre on Jan. 17. While the film should send the heart racing, the Somali pirates docudrama should, the screening itself will be rather calm in comparison to what the director had to go through to make it. Hodierne's film is the other side of the Captain Phillips coin -- an intimate portrait of life as a pirate and a story that demanded verisimilitude. No back lots, no water tanks, no A-listers with bodyguards -- Fishing Without Nets was all authenticity, something Hodierne had to travel to find.

Before its premiere, we talk to the filmmaker about growing up a renegade, immersing himself in Somali piracy culture, and a roller coaster production like no other:

Background: Hodierne's ambition showed its face early in life. While still in high school, he directed his first film, Remember the Warriors: Wakefield the Movie, a 75-minute documentary on a local basketball team that inspired his community. After a brief fling with Emerson College in 2006, the resourceful Hodierne returned to the directing path. He was quickly hired as the embedded filmmaker for U2's 360° Tour, dabbling in music videos and short films along the way.

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The Big Break: Hodierne first read about Somali piracy in 2008. The topic became an instant obsession, and he knew there was a film to be made exploring the motivations of the African perpetrators. Like many before him, Hodierne set out to make a short that could sell the pricier-than-normal indie pitch. So he took the money he earned on the road with U2, headed with his producing partner to Kenya, cast a group of non-actor Somali refugees, and, with only one notable incident of being held up by AK47-wielding Kenyan thugs, returned home with a cinematic calling card.

Fishing Without Nets took home the short film Jury Prize at Sundance 2012. Right before the fest, Hodierne had signed on with WME. By the time he nabbed an award for the movie, the agency had hooked him up with Vice Media. The notoriously wild brand loved the idea of producing a run-and-gun Somali pirate movie shot on location and, at the time, they were on the brink of breaking into the film business. “It was kind of the perfect fit,” Hodierne says. “They said, 'Let's write the book on how we make movies.' That was completely exciting for me and my producing partners. We had complete control, for better or worse.” Backed by Vice, Think Media Studios, and director Rupert Wyatt's Picture Farm, Hodierne returned to Kenya to shoot the feature version of Fishing Without Nets.

Getting the Film Off the Ground: Hodierne says that he felt the resources of Vice with in both the prep and postproduction stages, but when it came to making the movie, the only Vice representatives were the three-man operation of himself, and producers Raphael Swann and John Hibey. “It completely felt like we were on our own in Africa,” hes says. “Which is what we wanted. We weren't there making a studio film where we could call in the reinforcements.”

The Fishing Without Nets team went into production prioritizing time. According to Hodierne, everything takes longer in Africa, and things like transportation, cars, and gas all cost even more than in the States. So they gave themselves plenty of breathing room; Fishing Without Nets shot for an unfathomable 77 days divided over two stints, a 55-day chunk, a downbeat to assess the footage, and then 22 more days of shooting. “We began the project with a great deal of moral. Then time passes, morality strikes, and chaos ensues.”

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When It All Seemed to Click: While Fishing Without Nets has its moments of high-speed skiff boating and vessel-boarding, a majority of the film explores the back stories of the men involved. Hodierne can't help but be enamored by the performances of his cast, once again comprised of Somali refugees. (On his actors' backgrounds, Hodierne says, “no one specifically [came from] piracy, but they fought in militias.”)

“All of the dialogue, with very few exceptions, is improv,” Hodierne reveals. Not being a Somali speaker, the director would gives his troupe the beginning, middle, and end beats of a scene and the actors would get from one point to the next. He didn't need to know the details of their conversations to see his vision playing out in takes. “We had a translator on set who I worked really closely with. But you know what people are saying. People are really 90 percent body language and tone. I could determine whether a take was good or not without knowing the exact words.”

Hodierne's Mission for Fishing Without Nets: “I'm proud of the fact that it is, on one hand a quiet meditative piece, on the other it's an action thriller. We've been jokingly call it 'action art house.'” Hodierne always thought he'd be making the typical Sundance directorial debut -- one location, wry conversations, a couple of recognizable faces dealing with “issues” -- but Fishing Without Nets is a movie he had to make. Preparing for the film, Hodierne pored over every bit of information on Somali piracy he could find. He devoured journalistic reports, he interviewed anti-piracy C.I.A.-types, and he even picked up new details while filming the short in Kenya. Hodierne recalls reading someone's college thesis on Somali piracy. By that point, he could have written it himself.

And Hodierne knows what you've been thinking: Can it coexist alongside Captain Phillips? “I think it's great that the film exists because it brings it into the pop culture conversation. It illuminates what the other angle would look like. They are complementary. It's kind of like how they made Weeds and then they made Breaking Bad. Similar thought explored in different ways.”

Twitter: @misterpatches