favorite “Manos Sucias” is a story about two estranged brothers Delio (Cristian James
Advincula) & Jacobo (Jarlin Javier Martinez), one an aspiring rapper and
the other a more grounded fisherman who find themselves wrapped up in narco
trafficking. Set in the impoverished but culturally rich port town of
Buenaventura, Colombia, director Josef Kubota Wladyka draws rich performances
from first time actors and the community, while Alan Blanco’s camera paints the
stark beauty of Buenaventura with stunning reality. The film will recall 2012’s
“Una Noche” by Lucy Mulloy (probably not a coincidence that “Manos Sucias”
Lee presented that film also) and 2014’s “Fishing
Without Nets“ by Cutter Hodierne in that all of them as filmmakers, present gritty realities
of the everyday life of people at crossroads yet personally told their stories
affectionately. With use of a perfect rhythm “Manos Sucias” portrays a little seen piece of Colombia.
In July 2014, Sydney Levine of SydneysBuzz wrote of the film’s genesis as the firs U.S.-Colombian coproduction of its kind and its subsequent international sales when she discovered the film at Cartagena. Read more here.
LatinoBuzz: Latin American cinema seems to be exploring the Afro-Latino experience more than before. Was this one of the themes you had in mind when
writing the screenplay?
: Buenaventura is more than 85% African descent. After spending time talking to the community, gracious enough to share their stories and experiences with
us, it became clear that there is a lot of racism and violence towards the Afro-Colombians. It was important for us to touch on these larger themes by
using an intimate story of two estranged brothers. The heart of the story is the relationship between Jacobo and Delio, and the choices they must make.
: I still think there aren’t enough films made about the Afro-Latino experience, and minority experiences in general in the US and abroad. It’s important
that we as filmmakers and audience members seek out these stories and keeping pushing for a wider frame of representation.
LatinoBuzz: How important was Spike Lee’s involvement and what was the best advice he gave going into production?
: Spike’s involvement was extremely important because having an iconic filmmaker like himself associated with your project opens so many doors, especially
in Colombia. He read our script and revisions, and gave his insight on how to make the movie happen. Having been an advocate and mentor to the project over
the years, we showed him a fine cut of the film. At that point, he felt comfortable coming on board as our presenter and as an executive producer. Spike
has long been a supporter of up-and-coming filmmakers and continues to be an inspiration to us. His best piece of advice was simple… “Get it done, by any
LatinoBuzz: This is your first feature – did anyone say “Maybe shooting in the jungles of Buenaventura, Colombia with unknown actors is not the way to
go right now?”
: The script for this film was based on over 6 years of research that Joe carried out on the Pacific Coast of Colombia. Even so we heard a lot of people
say that shooting in Colombia was too risky and we definitely considered shooting in other places. We even scouted Puerto Rico and discovered that as a
team our top priority was to making a film that represented this story authentically.
We wanted to make the film with people who live the story every day, to the show the real faces, and the real places where this goes on. Most of the
locations are unknown to the world and this is a part of the drug trade that is rarely explored in the media. We hope the film leaves audiences thinking
and asking questions, particularly about the global nature of these conflicts and how this is an economy that might seem far away and exotic but actually
interconnects people from all over the world. If it hadn’t been done in Buenaventura, it simply wouldn’t be the same movie.
LatinoBuzz: How much local support was there for “Manos Sucias”? How did you ensure the production didn’t look like an occupation?
: As an official Colombia-US co-production we had the support of the Colombian Ministry of Culture and Film Commission, which allowed us to tap into the
local tax incentives.
Once we decided to film in Buenaventura the big question became access, not just to locations, but to people, information, resources. We were outsiders and
needed to be invited into the world as guests. An “occupation” was never an option; some of the communities we worked in are places where the police and
“official authorities” do not go. So access was built on relationships that Joe had begun forming over years of research, which deepened once we were on
the ground in pre-production and people saw that we weren’t all talk, that we were serious about making a film. In negotiating with the local communities
we were upfront about the kind of subject matter we wanted to tackle, but also about wanting to offer a collaboration that was beneficial for everyone.
They expressed a lot of interest in exchanging skills and we decided to offer a free filmmaking workshop, working with available resources like cellphones
and small photo cameras. Through that process, we filled out our cast and crew with local people, about half of our crew and almost 100% of our actors were
from Buenaventura and their support and contributions were immeasurable.
LatinoBuzz: How much happened on set in the moment rather than what was on paper?
There was a lot that happened in the moment, but it was only possible because we prepared so much. We did a lot of rehearsing and test shooting on
locations during pre-production. This was a key element because it allowed us to be free on set. In Buenaventura, things can change at any moment so we
always had to be ready to embrace the circumstances that were presented to us. We did do some improvising but after all the editing most of the scenes
ended up close to what was scripted.
LatinoBuzz: What was either the most beautiful moment in the shoot that made you feel everything will turn out fine.
I’ll never forget shooting the campfire scene with just Jarly and Cristian (Jacobo and Delio). First off, it was the first starry night I’d ever seen in
Buenaventura. It’s one of the most humid places in the world and constantly overcast; which, by the way, helped a lot with the photography. The scene is
about estranged brothers rediscovering each other. The actors are amazing in the scene. For them to perform so well, in an intimate scene amidst the action
and turmoil of the story, and under the stress and challenges of production was just unforgettable. I consider it a privilege to have executed that scene
with the crew and actors.
LatinoBuzz: Tell me about the look of the film. Was there a particular film or filmmaker you used as a point of reference?
While we knew we had a lot of limitations, we always wanted to have a strong artistic point of view for the look of the film. This started back in New York
with our preliminary storyboarding and continued as we did camera tests to see the technical limitations we’d face. Geared with that information, we
developed a lot of strategies around lens choices and camera movement. In a way this is a road movie, the blocking and shooting of the scenes in the boat
needed to be varied in order not to be monotonous.
We strived to emphasize the visual irony of the vastness of the ocean with the claustrophobia of the boat. We always wanted to have a sense of urgency and
immediacy like in many of the Dardenne brothers’ films we love. We used many films as references from Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat” and “The Wages of Fear,” to “Lawrence of Arabia.” Above all else, we knew we wanted to shoot in a way that gave the performers the space to give
their best work.
What do you think this moment in their lives meant to the people of Buenaventura?
: I think it’s hard to say. Many of us are still figuring that out for ourselves and I’m not sure I could be so bold as to speculate on their feelings. I
can tell you that these are complex people living in a complex situation all with the same capacities for joy and sorrow as anyone else in the world. The
experiences we shared while filming helped us to learn more about each other, and also helped me learn how to salsa dance badly. (Thank you, Stefania!) We
formed friendships with the cast, crew, and other people in Buenaventura and believe that this film is a testament to those friendships. We hope those
moments of working on this project mean as much to them as they do to us.
LatinoBuzz: You obviously immersed yourself in the local culture with the people, dialect, music etc – what sense of void did you and the crew feel
once you wrapped production and left Buenaventura to begin the post production process?
There certainly was a sense of emptiness or even loss right after shooting. While no day was ever predicable, you do develop a sense of routine, of eating
meals together, laughing at half-translated dirty jokes, and working all day and dancing all night. Getting back to the States, there was a lot of work to
fill the void. The turnaround for the film was pretty quick and editing started almost right away. In a lot of ways, the film never stops moving even now.
Now, I don’t think it’s a void. Making the film changed us and that feeling now is one of change, not emptiness.
LatinoBuzz: What’s the next story?
Alan and Joe are working on various new projects, still in early stages of development. Elena and Márcia are working on a film about a psychedelic drug
researcher who gets mixed up in the dark side of the Ayahuasca tourism industry in the Amazon, which will shoot on location in the coming year. We’re all
still interested in exploring little seen corners of the world and bringing them to light on the big screen.
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