Cutter Hodierne’s short fictional film Fishing Without Nets (2012) confronts the issue of piracy in Somalia. Shot using non-actors on location in East Africa, the film is a brief yet blunt portrayal of life as a Somali pirate, and gives an insight into what might lure an individual into a life of piracy from a Somali point of view.
Some of you might remember that after watching Captain Phillips (2013), I felt really frustrated because the portrayal of the Somali pirates in the film was fairly one-dimensional, even though the performances by Barkhad Abdi and the others was superb. I was concerned that their portrayal was too simplistic in comparison to the real-life issue, which is much more political and complex. However, I recognised that perhaps the film didn’t really have enough space to show the complete spectrum of piracy in Somalia, and what might cause an individual to turn to that way of life. I promised myself that I would seek more films that give a balance to this issue, rather than only seeing the issue from one perspective.
Luckily, the VICE Youtube channel recently uploaded Hodierne’s Fishing Without Nets. It’s available to view on their channel for the foreseeable future (even though the comments section is fairly vile and full of racists). VICE always uploads interesting documentaries and short films, and I’d definitely recommend having a look through their archives if you’re stuck on what to watch, or are after something a bit different to the norm.
The film is about 17 minutes long. While this certainly doesn’t allow the time to go too deeply into the issue of piracy in Somalia, I feel like any dedicated period of time where we view this issue from ‘the other side’ is valuable. We are shown what it’s like to be in a boat, what it’s like to prepare for a ‘mission’, the things that can go wrong whilst out on the water, and the constant chewing of khat, an amphetamine-like stimulant which is used during the mission. This seems exactly the same as what we’re shown in Captain Phillips, but where this short film shines is in its portrayal of a young fisherman whose daughter is sick and needs medicine, but he doesn’t have any money. Will be turn to piracy in order to aid his sick child? This is the type of real life issue that we are not usually given the opportunity to see.
The acting can be patchy at times, as the cast are not actors. Sometimes it seems as if they’re playing up for the camera a bit, but during the tense moments, their performances are solid. The young man who portrays the fisherman who is contemplating joining the pirates is a wonderful actor and portrays well the conflict between needing to help his family and not wanting to do anything illegal at sea. The cinematography is perfect for the subject – gritty, bleak, and honest. The film plays with colour in a strange way that can be disconcerting, but also adds to the overall tension.
It has to be noted that there are some significant translation issues in the film. A Youtube commenter has noted that during one moment, the subtitles say that the Somalis are arguing about how to pose in a photo. In actual fact, the people on camera are casually mentioning how many millions of dollars they want to get out of their mission. This is an incredibly unfortunate choice on the part of the translators, to deliberately mislead the viewers of the film. As the commenter noted, you can even hear them saying ‘million’ a number of times. It’s a fictional film, not a documentary, so ultimately the creators are at liberty to change the subtitles up if they feel like it. They wouldn’t be the first to do so. But it does bring into question the rest of the content of the film, as someone who can’t understand the spoken language.
Fishing Without Nets is just the first chapter in my quest of finding films (whether fictional or documentary) about Somali pirates, in order to counterbalance their portrayal in Western media and blockbuster films. Although it’s clear that piracy is a horrible crime and hurts a lot of people, any portrayal of the realities of life as a Somali pirate is valuable and it’s important to consider the fact that these are real people, not just movie villains. Fishing Without Nets is a great short film that humanises the issue of piracy in Somalia, and it’s worth a watch for anyone who wants to look beyond the surface of this incredibly complex issue.