I was once asked by a colleague from a film class why independent films matter. As I am an aficionado of Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Quentin Tarantino, M.Night Shyamalan, and Christopher Nolan, I said, "independent films matter, because stories matter." As we stepped out of the classroom, our conversation continued. We talked about the importance of independent cinema and film in general. I still think that as much as we need blockbusters, independent cinema will always remain the best source when it comes to telling new stories. The societies we reside in deserve them. I remember something a student said within a class of mine, "filmmakers don't have to have a moral obligation." While the statement has a bit of truth within it, I had to disagree. I think filmmakers, as much as they are into what we call "entertainment," must value cinema. Having the power of stirring conversations based on topics concerning life, religion, God, love, spirituality and most importantly hope all tread the lines of putting value within cinema. I highly recommend Andrei Tarvkovsky's and Stanley Kubrick's perspectives of cinema.
This past week, I had the chance to speak with director Josef Wladyka regarding his new film, Manos Sucias, meaning "Dirty Hands." You can read my review of the film here -- it's a film, I highly recommend. Josef and I, during our short talk, discussed the process of making his film in Colombia. Manos Sucias is about two young brothers embarking on a dangerous journey in a boat to Panama to simply deliver cocaine via a narco-torpedo for quick cash. Josef, with his co-writer Alan Blanco (whom is also responsible for the cinematography of the film), have spent years working on the script. They wanted to tell a story. As a screenwriter myself, I'm glad that Josef decided to tackle this film. Filmmaking, as we know, is an arduous, challenging, yet fun task to do. Though, avoiding to be sidetracked, a director along with his/her team, must remain alert, aware, and continue to be inspired by the very subject he/she's tackling. Josef has achieved what in my opinion is what an independent filmmaker desires. He’s inquisitive and when I asked him if he’d be interested in taking on big budget films in the future he stated, “It’s all about the story for me,” Wladyka said.
He has a few shorts on his resume, along with commercials that were screened at festivals around the world, granting him a nomination for a Young Director’s award and a Porsche Student Advertising award. Manos Sucias, his debut feature length film, executive-produced by his instructor at NYU, Spike Lee, screened around the world in prestigious film festivals and won Best New Narrative Director at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.
The journey commenced long before the cameras began rolling. Wladyka took a personal trip to South America, where he spent time with people in Colombia and other countries, which gave him the opportunity to observe the regions, the atmosphere, the people and most importantly the culture and everyday lives of the youth. Manos Sucias, was frenetic at times and was always tense with drama. The film covered important subjects, presenting the lives of the people to us. It's the idea of the constant struggle many of us overlook in order to make a living and what it takes to turn their dreams into realities.
One of the most important scenes in the film is when three characters talk about soccer, a simple conversation. Here, Wladyka turns the conversation towards a bleak conclusion. One of the characters shows how racism exists on the surface by degrading those with dark skin. Wladyka also added that music, art and cinema are part of everyday culture in the region. “As writers first we had to also make sure to point out that clearly, what the bright youth of Colombia dream, desire and artists they look up to," explained Wladyka.
One of the main characters, a non-living thing, is the narco-torpedo filled with cocaine. We often see the journey as if through the point of view of the torpedo that the characters are dragging towards its destination via a boat. For Wladyka, the torpedo (which he had the opportunity to see closely and understand why fishermen utilized them in villages) became an important object. Both Wladyka and his co-writer Alan Blanco pre-visualized the film while writing. From the close-up shots of the characters faces, to the the color of sky, everything was planned. We also mentioned David Fincher’s Se7en, in which the city’s been shot as if it’s a character. Pre-visualization for both Wladyka and Blanco was a crucial process, focusing on seeing the film first before rolling the camera.
Wladyka understands—he’s alert as a filmmaker, knowing the frame that stories like Manos Sucias must be told. Filmmaking, while it’s about entertaining your viewers, is also about educating them. Without independent cinema like this, we wouldn't be able to witness and experience processes like this -- it’s safe to say future of cinema is bright.