Premiering in Cartagena Film Festival 2014 and then going to the filmmakers’ hometown, New York City, where ” Manos Sucias” (“Dirty Hands”) won Tribeca Film Festival’s Best New Narrative Director Award and
2nd place Audience Award, this film has not yet closed US distribution, but has been acquired internationally by some of the best distributors.
In Cannes, Marina de la Fuentes’ international sales agency, 6 Sales, sold it to Paris-based Pretty Pictures who
acquired not only France – its usual home territory – but also Germany, Austria, Benelux and Switzerland. James Velaise of Pretty Pictures screened the
film at Tribeca and “immediately fell madly in love with it,” he said.
“It came totally out of the blue, we were mesmerized by the filmmaking. As a first-time film ‘Manos Sucias’ is outstanding, as good as anything we’ve seen
coming out of Latin America in a long time,” said Velaise.
Shot on location in Colombia, using local actors who speak the patois of Buenaventura, “Manos Sucias” reflects years of painstaking research by Josef
“What is fascinating is that the filmmaker spent five years in Buenaventura learning what was going on there and building up the trust of people. The
average filmmaker would never take the time to do that. You feel that in the film: There a sense of genuineness which you don’t get in 99% of indie films
today,” said Velaise.
At the same time, ‘Manos Sucias’ is “incredibly tight: On paper, it has some breakout potential to it, because it is a thriller, ” he added.
Pretty Pictures will now seek to sell the film on to distributors in the other four territories, all significant distributors for arthouse films. Velaise
reasons that companies exist in these territories that often buy the same films as Pretty Pictures, and share similar tastes. (e.g., “La Jaula de Oro”,
premiered in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard 2013 and was acquired by Belgium-Fourcorners Distribution, France-Pretty Pictures, Germany-Films Boutique, Hong Kong (China)-Encore Inflight Limited, Hungary-Cirko Film Kft., Italy-Parthenos S.R.L., Mexico-Canibal Networks, Netherlands-Wild Bunch Benelux, Norway-As Fidalgo Film Distribution, Poland-Art House, Puerto Rico-Wiesner Distribution, Switzerland-Xenix Filmdistribution Gmbh, Taiwan-Maison Motion, Inc., U.K.- Peccadillo Pictures or “Love is Strange” by Ira Sachs premiered at
Sundance 2014 and was acquired by U.S.-Sony Pictures Classics, Australia-Rialto Distribution (Australia), Canada-Métropole Films Distribution, Canada-Mongrel Media Inc., France-Pretty Pictures, Italy-Koch Media, Mexico-Cinemas Nueva Era, Portugal-Midas Filmes, Spain-Golem Distribución, Switzerland-Xenix Filmdistribution Gmbh, Turkey-Kurmaca Film, U.K.- Altitude Film Sales). These distributors are all likely
candidates to acquire rights to “Manos Sucias” as well.
U.S. rights to “Manos Sucias” are handled by WME Global’s Mark Ankner and Christine D’Souza. Distributors seeking to win over the booming Latino audience,
and who have an affinity for gritty, action-packed, arthouse thrillers, or any of Pretty Pictures’ recent acquisitions (see below) owe it to themselves to
check out this film.
This pioneering U.S.- Colombia production was the debut feature by writer-director, Josef Kubota Wladyka and co-writer-DP Alan Blanco. It was produced by Elena Greenlee, Márcia Nunes, Mirlanda Torres Zapata and Carolina Caicedo and exec-produced by U.S. Film
Director Spike Lee.
“Manos Sucias” follows two estranged brothers, both Afro-Colombian fishermen, who embark on a fishing-boat from Buenaventura, Colombia’s biggest Pacific
Coast port and a violent drug trade emporium. Their mission is to tow underwater a “narco-torpedo” packed with 100 kilos of cocaine to Panama. En route,
they must circumnavigate marauding paramilitaries and impoverished villagers eager for their cargo.
In Cartagena, I interviewed the director, DP, and producers. Josef Wladyka is a U.S. citizen who is the son of a Japanese mother and a Polish father. He
received the Spike Lee Fellowship while attending the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU.
You could say this is a drug story, but you should know it is much more than that. In a fisherman’s village the Afro Colombians are confronted with drug
traffic taking place on their ancestral beaches where they have lived for generations.
Before I started Grad Film School at NYU, I spent several months backpacking with a close friend in South America. We traveled along the Pacific coast of
Ecuador and Colombia, and went through these towns that were under siege by narco-trafficking. The locals would tell us stories about homemade submarines,
narco-torpedoes, and different armed groups that would fight to control these areas. I became very interested in the subject and wanted to immerse myself
more in the world. With the help of a friend from the region, I went back several times to Buenaventura, Tumaco, and other parts of the Pacific coast of
Colombia to continue researching and collecting stories.
I also got permission to go to Malaga Naval Base where I saw confiscated narco-torpedoes and submarines first hand. I always had a camera with me and shot
lots of footage during my travels. I used that footage to make a pitch video for raising money from Kickstarter and private equity.
The film is an official Colombian production, recognized by the Ley de Cine (The Cinema Law). It is a 50-50 coproduction with Colombian producers Carolina
Caicedo and Mirlanda Zapata. With our U.S. producers, Márcia Nunes and Elena Greenlee, that makes four female producers on this film.
Márcia knew Cine Colombia from her previous life in international sales with Goldcrest. Elena, Alan and I scouted in October 2012, one week in Bogotá and
through Proimagenes we met many possible co-producers and visited locations. We chose young producers who
were hungry for their first film; they were not rigid.
The U.S. producers wanted to do the film U.S. indie style, not in the usual Colombian style. We shot it in Buenaventura, Colombia’s largest port, which has
been hit very hard by narco traffickers and violence.
This was the first feature for everyone. Except for Márcia, who got her Masters of Film Business at Gallatin School of NYU, the others all got their MFAs
from Tisch, though some graduated two years ago and others four years ago.
How we, as foreigners, were able to make this film, opening up delicate, sensitive and violent stories, was based on my having no assumptions. And our own
cross-cultural backgrounds helped.
We had a great premiere in Cartagena. The festival permits people to see films for free and we were able to test the Colombian audience’s reaction. The
film explores the international issue of drug trafficking and the social-exclusion of the Afro-Colombian community on the coast from the mainstream economy
in Colombia. The film is genre bending; it is not too arty and is not fully a genre movie. The audience of 800 to 1,000 Colombians laughed and cried, even
danced in their seats. Three of the actors also saw the film for the first time, as did the crew. When the actors came up for the Q & A they received a
standing ovation from the crowd. It was a beautiful moment.
We offered free audiovisual workshops for the community before we shot the film, and found many of our actors and crewmembers through that process. We used
Kickstarter to raise US $60,000 to greenlight production and fund our community workshops in Buenaventura.
Film Independent bestowed the Canon Filmmaker Award upon the film’s two
producers, who are also Film Independent Producing Fellows. The Canon Filmmaker Award Program is a program for Film Independent Fellows, alumni of the Los
Angeles Film Festival and Spirit Awards Nominees and Winners. Producers Elena Greenlee and Márcia Nunes who had participated in the FIND Producing Lab with
the project were awarded with the loan of a Canon camera package for their production. Further support
was granted by the San Francisco Film Society, who, together with the Kenneth
Rainin Foundation, awarded the film with two grants, one during the production
phase, and one during post-production.
Jennifer Kushner, Director of Artist Development at Film Independent
spoke with Elena and Márcia in those early days about Manos Sucias and its upcoming shoot, and here’s what they had to say then:
“The social exclusion of the Pacific coast — home to much of the Afro-Colombian population — is felt throughout the country, echoed in the sentiment that
Colombia “doesn’t really have a black population.” While popular culture glamorizes cocaine “cowboys,” and the US takes a tough stance in the “war on
drugs,” few people acknowledge the oppression and resilience of these citizens.
Our goal is for the film to inspire change in our audience, and in the region. We want audiences to realize that people like Jacobo and Delio are not
perpetuating the drug trade, they are trapped in it; and to reflect on the impact their personal choices have on the situation.”
“When Josef and Alan brought us the script in early 2012, we immediately fell in love with it. The characters jumped off the page, and we couldn’t stop
thinking about it.”
Pretty Pictures roster of films illustrates their exceptional taste in films:
“The Dark Valley” (“Das Finstere Tal”) By Andreas
Prochaska (Acquired From Films Distribution In Feb 2014)
“Dancing In Jaffa” By Hilla Medalia (Acquired
From K5 International In Apr 2013)
“Omar” By Hany Abu-Assad (Acquired From The Match
Factory In Feb 2013)
“The Look Of Love” By Winterbottom Michael
(Acquired From Studiocanal In Aug 2012)
“Pieta” By Ki-Duk Kim (Acquired From Finecut Co.
Ltd. In Aug 2012)
“Wadjda” By Haifa Al-Mansour (Acquired From The
Match Factory In May 2012)
“The Hunt” (“Jagten”) By Thomas Vinterberg
(Acquired From Trust In Apr 2012)
“Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present” By
Matthew Akers (Acquired From Dogwoof In Feb 2012)