Friday, April 25, 2014

The Tío Louie Interview: MANOS SUCIAS director Josef Wladyka

HOLA is proud to present the Tío Louie Interview, where filmmaker and bon vivant Louis Perego Moreno (also known as Tío Louie) interviews actors and multimedia-makers in the business.

In this edition, Tío Louie gets his hands dirty with the award-winning director of Manos sucias, Josef Wladyka

Though five out of 89 feature films at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival were produced in Latin America, Manos sucias (Dirty Hands) set in Colombia won Best New Narrative Director for Josef Wladyka. In the film, Jacobo, a desperate fisherman and Delio, a naive kid, embark on a journey trafficking millions of dollars of cocaine up the Pacific coast of Colombia towing a submerged torpedo in the wake of their fishing boat. While Jacobo is a seasoned trafficker, young Delio is unprepared for the grim reality.

Manos sucias director
Josef Wladyka.
In my own disarming and non-confrontational manner, I couldn’t resist asking the director,What’s a Polish-Japanese guy from Brooklyn doing directing and co-writing a film in Colombia?The first few opening seconds of this brilliant film shine the spotlight on black Colombians in this Pacific port in the western region. What many fail to realize is that 30% of the country is comprised of Afro-Colombians. And when conducting my due diligence researching this story, of course I had to reach out to a native Colombian friend from Barranquilla and ask to describe Buenaventura. Her immediate response was, “A tragedy as to what is happening there.” In March of this year, the Economist named the town the most violent in all of Colombia.

Yet when the Tribeca Film Festival bestowed their award on this film they affirmed, “We have chosen a filmmaker whose journey should truly be an (is an) example to all of us about the commitment to the process of researching and developing a film. Not only did this director spend several years immersed in a marginalized community in order to tell the story in the most truthful way possible, he impacted and contributed to that community. We felt this film was an eye- and mind-opener, that transported us to a different place, stimulating our thinking, allowing us to meditate on the relationship between violence and circumstance.” I couldn’t agree more as I loved this film from beginning to end and here was my interview with Josef that tied the knot.

In this being a story mostly about blacks, was it the story or locale?  
It arose from the reality of all the towns in that region where they are black. Once I cast the film, I realized that there is a lot of social exclusion and racism in this region. In the casting process I heard their stories. I also discovered this beautiful Afro-Colombian culture in casting real people from the region.

Jarlin Javier Martínez and Cristián James Abvincula
in a scene from Manos sucias.
How did the black community receive you or what strategy did you implement to be accepted?
Our film was set in Buenaventura and dealt with narco-trafficking – a town under siege. We came in with no assumptions and open to hearing their story and how narco-trafficking played a role in their lives by shining light on this story. We were always honest and upfront about what the story was about. Buenaventura is a place where a lot of people are promised, but people don’t deliver. So when they saw this guy who was Polish-Japanese from the U.S. that was interested in their story they paused. Plus, when I arrived with a co-writer and Elena, a producer, they saw it was serious.

How did you lure Spike Lee to be an Executive Producer and receive a grant?
I went to the NYU Film Graduate program and he taught in my third year. I was already traveling for several years to Colombia developing this story and I had a script. He always said he loved the narrative of the film. He always did what he could to support this project by lending his name, writing letters of support, and through the school provided a Spike Lee Production grant. After they had shot it and we were editing it, he liked it very much and decided to come on board.

Tell me about the casting and your actors.
The principal actors are from Buenaventura. Most of them were theater students. They do plays traveling around Colombia performing from an Afro-Colombian perspective. It was a teacher from the school who had recommended his students. I wanted to cast them all. These weren’t non-actors, but none of them had acted on camera. The rehearsal was all about preparing them to act for film. I can’t express how much talent exists in Buevanventura among actors, rappers, etc.

 A scene from Manos sucias
How do you respond to Colombians who say they are sick and tired of their country constantly being depicted as infested mainly with narco-traffickers, when they feel there are so many other stories to tell?
Our film is about a specific place that has been historically excluded by the government of Colombia. It is more than drug trafficking. It’s about two brothers. The torpedo that they pull with their motorboat is a metaphor for all the problems going on in that area. We never show drugs in the film. We want to show the reality that they face. Also, as U.S. filmmakers we sacrificed and put ourselves under tremendous risk, but the locals bought into the mission. This is a part of Colombia that a lot of Colombians don’t want to see. In The 54th Cartagena Film Festival, native Colombians had much more of an emotional reaction than we experienced at the Tribeca Film Festival. People cried in Colombia. There’s always positive stories to tell in Colombia. I lived in Cali and Bogotá, but our particular film was about this place and what the residents undergo.

 Manos sucias co-writer/director of photography
Alan Blanco, actor Cristián James Abvincula,
executive producer Spike Lee, director/co-writer
Josef Wladyka. Courtesy of Getty Images.
As a veteran filmmaker, what is the biggest advice you have for a narrative film director?
First of all, I don’t consider myself a veteran. I’m a first-time filmmaker and there’s always a lot to learn. In pre-production when casting actors, give yourself a lot of time and spend quality time with them. Don’t cut corners. Once pre-production starts, you are in over your head if you have not focused on this part of the production.

Does your film translate to a U.S. audience?
Yes, I believe so. The reaction at Tribeca has been so incredible. It’s about survival and brotherhood– these are universal themes. We wanted it to be entertaining and accessible. There were parts where you laughed and found it suspenseful– while not being too esoteric– and more importantly, [there were parts that are there to] leave you thinking. We could have made a documentary, but we chose a narrative.     

For more information about Manos sucias, click here.

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Louis Perego Moreno (Tío Louie) is an interactive content producer and educator who for 32 years has owned Skyline Features, a bilingual multimedia and educational production company developing documentaries, television programming and advertising commercials featuring Latinos, blacks, women, urban youth and LGBT people. He has trained 1,500 Latino and African American youth over 10 years to produce 70 documentary shorts. For documentary features he was the producer and director of Latina Confessions (2010) and co-producer of American Dreams Deferred (2013) on PBS.

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