The Pirates of Somalia (2017)

The title* of a book by (then still) wannabe journalist, Jay Bahadur, who planned to write an exposé based on a land he grew to love almost as much as his own. Most coming-of-age stories center around a young man’s sexual encounter with a seemingly exotic native from the country to which he has either been forced to travel or to where he escapes from stifling responsibilities. This film depicts a naively brave visit to a place few journalists dared to go at the time.   *“Deadly Waters” in UK/ Australia

Part of its charm is how the casting in no way caters to Hollywood’s distorted racial sensibilities by either rewriting the story to make Jay’s parents’ mixed-race marriage a Caucasian union or by hiring an unconvincing vaguely ethnic actor, who bears no resemblance to real-life, Jay Bahadur. Rather, the family dynamic is believable but casually presented as fact since it has no bearing on the plot. Another component of its charm is in capturing affection, both in actors’ natural chemistry and characters’ scripted interaction. Pay close attention, filmmakers; this is how it’s done. That it intrinsically avoids heavy-handed themes, canned/ preachy dialogue, contrived metaphors and overblown juxtapositions makes this film feel like a blast of fresh air on a steamy day in the desert.

I would be remiss to leave out any mention of countless profanities and blatant drug use that makes this unsuitable for classroom viewing and discussion. However, where home viewing is concerned, realism is lost the moment the camera flinches. Moreover, the goal is sympathy and consideration rather than pity, and certainly not stereotypes. To that end, many striking parallels can be made drawn between African Pirates and North American rappers. At the end of the day, Human Beings are more like than different, which should make international diplomatic relations less convoluted than they tend to be.

Mr. Bahadur returned home right before cargo ship, MV Maersk Alabama was taken hostage by the pirates about whom he wrote. This incident stimulated interest in his book, which took longer than expected to get published. But people soon realized his research challenged inaccurate perceptions about the pirates and their motives. Incidentally, trivia fans will appreciate how movie Jay’s host-turned-friend, who guides him through Somalia is the same actor, who portrayed the lead pirate of the aforementioned hijacking as portrayed in the 2013 movie “Captain Phillips.”

Winter’s Bone (2010)

I had the pleasure of watching an advance screening of this pearl at a film festival. Afterwards, a local musician spoke about the making of it. Deep in the Ozarks, lies a population—like a country all its own—sprawled out among the craggy terrain. Fiercely protective of their own, it took years to earn the trust of the community in order to craft a novel based on their way of life.

Most of the supporting cast and extras are locals, and the homes and clothing are indigenous to the area. Lead actress, Jennifer Lawrence (virtually unknown at the time of its release) had to learn to hunt & skin squirrels, to chop firewood and to fight. Her character must find some evidence of her meth cook father, for whom there is an arrest warrant. He’s missing—either in hiding or dead—but “like a dog digging after a Winter’s bone,” as the old Appalachian expression goes, she must find some enough proof to satisfy the authoritys, who are about to seize her family home where she takes care of her ailing mother and two younger siblings.

The Florida Project (2017)

My affinity for this movie is starting to border on obsession. It’s main purpose—besides superb acting and superior cinematography—is to get into your heart and burrow down deep where it can change your perspective of a complex subject that is at worst completely unknown, or at best unfairly judged then flippantly dismissed. Any film that can portray the complex realities of systemic poverty and not flinch at the failings of marginalized people forced to live in a motel while retaining their dignity as Human Beings deserves more attention than it will get. It ain’t pretty but somehow it’s still beautiful.

Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

In no way hyperbole, the title is as provocative and contentious as its titular character, who happens to be a real person. It’s an severely honest rendering of a life turned upside down—first by conversion from a life of unrestrained vice to a zealous desire to serve God then again from safe and tidy church subculture into fighting for the safety of orphans caught in the crosshairs of war. By getting to know and love vulnerable children in desperate need of protection, the repentant rebel turns his unbridled violence into a passion for rescue and protection, with or without the help of friends and family. Sadly, those in the greatest position to help lack the spiritual and emotional resources of compassion and generosity.