SECUESTRO EXPRESS - Q&A with director JONATHAN JAKUBOWICZ
Movie Interview by Ania Kalinowska
Congratulations! SECUESTRO EXPRESS is the first Venezuelan film to be distributed internationally, and is also the top-grossing film in Venezuela. How does that make you feel?
Very proud! To be able to communicate that much with the whole nation was a wild experience. It was also intended - we wanted to make a film that spoke to both sides of the political and social divide, and that's why we became so huge, that's why everybody started coming to see it. We had a huge turnaround of people going to the theatres, people that had never even been in a theatre before. One of the reasons for this was because pirate DVD sellers decided not to sell the movie [on pirated DVD] because they supported the message that it conveyed; they encouraged people to go to the cinema and watch it! But, yes, it was (and still is) exciting; we beat THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST in an extremely Christian country to the top-grossing spot!
The film is apparently based on your own kidnapping experience...did making it bring up any painful memories associated with your own ordeal?
It's based on many different kidnappings, one of them was mine. Mine was far less traumatic and shorter than the one in the film. I wasn't physically harmed; I did have a gun to my head for 45 minutes (which didn't feel good!) and they left us pretty much naked on the highway in the middle of the night. It's a very crazy experience to have. But I also spoke to other victims and also kidnappers, because I wanted to portray both sides in a respectful way, and deal with the real reasons of the problem. That was my goal. What I brought from my own experience was a lot of the language; when you're kidnapped you don't perceive reality in the normal way. What I remember perceiving is those set of fragmented images that kept combining in my brain, giving me an idea of where I was and who I was with. I think that's the main reason many people who watch the movie say that they feel as though they've been kidnapped. It's all those shots and anarchy of visuals creating a feeling of no control, like your life is in someone else's hands. That's how it feels. That's reality. And that's what you see in the film.
This was a dangerous venture especially in terms of location. Can you recall the scariest moment of shooting?
We were shooting in very dangerous neighbourhoods all the time; the security crew outnumbered the production crew most of the time! But what was important was that we had the locals helping us, and believing in what we were doing. As for the scariest moment: it was the scene where [the kidnappers] are shooting at the transvestites. We got past the block in which we had to shoot that scene, and I told them to keep going one more block and to shoot again because we didn't get it right. Unfortunately, the next block was in front of one of the biggest guerilla-activity bases; [the actor] shot his gun right in front of them and five minutes later we had 200 people pointing their guns at us and asking questions; the entire crew was on the ground! It was a scary moment...we eventually bought them burgers to solve the problem!
Is there anything you would change if you had to make the film again?
I wouldn't change a thing; I got the movie I wanted to make. I'm not as good as the movie is, I'm just lucky that everything went so well.
How would you respond to the criticism that you've trivialized crime in the way you've handled the subject matter?
I don't see it as trivializing it at all. Quite the opposite - this type of crime is trivial already. I don't tell people that I've been kidnapped because chances are my listeners have been kidnapped themselves. And that is scary. It's the fact that we are talking about it, that makes the difference. We're saying this is something we need to discuss, because it's not okay that this has become normal (for Venezuelans).
What else can be done to solve the problem?
The most important thing is to continue the process of communication that we started and to invite people to collaborate. I think we've created an awareness that's a golden opportunity to start doing effective things. We're hoping that it's going to start to happen; it's very hard because of the political problems. The government isn't exactly intent on solving the problems because they benefit from them. But it's a doable process; Venezuela is a complex society and we're just doing our best to make it evolve and hopefully sooner or later the government will realize that they need to solve the problems, and that they'll still have popularity for solving them, and not only exploiting them.
So this isn't on the government's 'favourite films' list...
They hated it. The vice-president called it a miserable film with no artistic value. A government-sympathizer sued the movie and tried to take it out of theatres; another lawyer sued me and tried to get me in jail for portraying the authorities under a negative light and for promoting drug use. There's a campaign on national TV against me and the movie - it's very unfortunate, and it's been very hard to deal with. But I don't make movies to please a government, I make it for the audience to see and the people who need to be heard, whether the government wants to hear it or not. It's not easy, but at the same time, I'm prepared to do whatever it takes.
Apart from Robert Rodriguez, which directors have influenced your work the most?
Oliver Stone, Danny Boyle, Quentin Tarantino, Peter Greenaway, Kubrik (who's not influenced by Kubrik?!)
Any interesting projects in the pipeline?
I'm adapting a Robert Ludlum [Bourne Supremacy author] novel called The Sigma Protocol. It's taking the message of understanding and the need to do something to develop the minorities to a worldwide level. It's a big Hollywood franchise, so it will be a bigger boat to push!