A new Danish film made on a shoestring budget with a partly amateur cast confronts the global scourge of piracy on the high seas through a psychological drama about negotiations to free a vessel and crew seized by Somali marauders.
"A Hijacking" ("Kapringen" in Danish), directed by Tobias Lindholm, opens at cinemas in Denmark on Thursday after its world premiere in Venice at the beginning of this month and subsequent showings at the Toronto International Film Festival.
"It's a European hijacking drama and a negotiation drama, and there's a lot more psychological violence than real action," Lindholm told Reuters.
Piracy is rife off East Africa, disrupting shipping lanes between Europe and Asia, putting seamen, vessels and cargo at risk and costing shipping companies huge sums to protect themselves. The pirates tend to be Somali desperados.
"It's a contemporary film about...a big issue right now, so I would be lying if I said it wasn't political, but I don't have an answer (to the problem of piracy) in the film," said Lindholm.
"The message is to try to show how complicated the situation is, and how far from cliche it is," he said. "Nobody is really the villain. Everybody is doing the best they can, even the pirates."
The film is fiction but tells of the cargo vessel MV Rozen which is heading for harbor when it is boarded in the Indian Ocean by pirates who demand millions of dollars in ransom to free the crew in a life-and-death poker game lasting 134 days.
With a budget of just under 2 million euros ($2.61 million), Lindholm and his team recruited young Somalis from the Kenyan port of Mombasa to play the pirates and real sailors to play crew members. They also hired a real-life security chief from a Danish shipping company to act as chief negotiator in the film.
Just over a year ago they rented the Rozen, which was hijacked for real in 2007, and set out on the Indian Ocean to shoot the East African footage which alternates with tense scenes from a negotiating room at the shipping firm in Denmark.
CREW HAD BEEN HOSTAGES
The sailors engaged to play crew members had themselves been hostages in a real-life hijacking of a different vessel only a year before Lindholm began making his film.
Lindholm, who says he "stands on the shoulders" of the Danish minimalist Dogme movement which burst to fame in the mid-1990s, said he aimed to be as realistic as possible.
"The weapons used by the pirates in the film are weapons that we borrowed from the Kenyan police who took those weapons from Somali pirates when they arrested them in the harbor," Lindholm said. "So down to every small detail of a hijacking we tried to put in as much realism as possible."
To recruit young Mombasa men to act as pirates Lindholm sought permission from Somali clan leaders in Kenya.
"They surprised me because I thought they wouldn't want to tell this story because it's a brutal story about Somali reality," Lindholm said.
"But they implored me to tell the story as hardcore as possible because they are losing their young men right now, thinking that fortune is (to be made) as pirates."
For such a low-budget, high-risk endeavor Lindholm relied on his friends in a jazz band consisting of his cinematographer, production boss, film editor, sound man, producers and actor Pilou Asbaek who is the protagonist as the ship's cook.
"The jazz band didn't take much money, so we actually put the money on the screen - that's the whole point of doing it this way," said Lindholm, a screenwriter for whom this was just his second feature film after "R", a 2010 Danish prison drama.
Lindholm, who has worked as a co-writer with Danish director Thomas Vinterberg whose "The Hunt" competed for the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year, said he hoped "A Hijacking" would raise awareness about piracy among a worldwide audience.
"It's a big world political issue, but...I have no message to the world, just the facts of what is going on," he said.