By Sydney Levine | Sydneys Buzz July 18, 2014 at 10:30AM
Premiering in Cartagena Film Festival 2014 and then going to the filmmakers’ hometown, New York City, where " Manos Sucias" ("Dirty Hands") won Tribeca Film Festival’s Best New Narrative Director Award and 2nd place Audience Award, this film has not yet closed US distribution, but has been acquired internationally by some of the best distributors.
In Cannes, Marina de la Fuentes’ international sales agency, 6 Sales, sold it to Paris-based Pretty Pictures who acquired not only France – its usual home territory – but also Germany, Austria, Benelux and Switzerland. James Velaise of Pretty Pictures screened the film at Tribeca and “immediately fell madly in love with it,” he said.
“It came totally out of the blue, we were mesmerized by the filmmaking. As a first-time film 'Manos Sucias' is outstanding, as good as anything we’ve seen coming out of Latin America in a long time,” said Velaise.
Shot on location in Colombia, using local actors who speak the patois of Buenaventura, "Manos Sucias" reflects years of painstaking research by Josef Wladyka.
“What is fascinating is that the filmmaker spent five years in Buenaventura learning what was going on there and building up the trust of people. The average filmmaker would never take the time to do that. You feel that in the film: There a sense of genuineness which you don’t get in 99% of indie films today,” said Velaise.
At the same time, 'Manos Sucias' is “incredibly tight: On paper, it has some breakout potential to it, because it is a thriller, ” he added.
Pretty Pictures will now seek to sell the film on to distributors in the other four territories, all significant distributors for arthouse films. Velaise reasons that companies exist in these territories that often buy the same films as Pretty Pictures, and share similar tastes. (e.g., "La Jaula de Oro", premiered in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard 2013 and was acquired by Belgium-Fourcorners Distribution, France-Pretty Pictures, Germany-Films Boutique, Hong Kong (China)-Encore Inflight Limited, Hungary-Cirko Film Kft., Italy-Parthenos S.R.L., Mexico-Canibal Networks, Netherlands-Wild Bunch Benelux, Norway-As Fidalgo Film Distribution, Poland-Art House, Puerto Rico-Wiesner Distribution, Switzerland-Xenix Filmdistribution Gmbh, Taiwan-Maison Motion, Inc., U.K.- Peccadillo Pictures or "Love is Strange" by Ira Sachs premiered at Sundance 2014 and was acquired by U.S.-Sony Pictures Classics, Australia-Rialto Distribution (Australia), Canada-Métropole Films Distribution, Canada-Mongrel Media Inc., France-Pretty Pictures, Italy-Koch Media, Mexico-Cinemas Nueva Era, Portugal-Midas Filmes, Spain-Golem Distribución, Switzerland-Xenix Filmdistribution Gmbh, Turkey-Kurmaca Film, U.K.- Altitude Film Sales). These distributors are all likely candidates to acquire rights to "Manos Sucias" as well.
U.S. rights to "Manos Sucias" are handled by WME Global’s Mark Ankner and Christine D’Souza. Distributors seeking to win over the booming Latino audience, and who have an affinity for gritty, action-packed, arthouse thrillers, or any of Pretty Pictures’ recent acquisitions (see below) owe it to themselves to check out this film.
This pioneering U.S.- Colombia production was the debut feature by writer-director, Josef Kubota Wladyka and co-writer-DP Alan Blanco. It was produced by Elena Greenlee, Márcia Nunes, Mirlanda Torres Zapata and Carolina Caicedo and exec-produced by U.S. Film Director Spike Lee.
"Manos Sucias" follows two estranged brothers, both Afro-Colombian fishermen, who embark on a fishing-boat from Buenaventura, Colombia’s biggest Pacific Coast port and a violent drug trade emporium. Their mission is to tow underwater a “narco-torpedo” packed with 100 kilos of cocaine to Panama. En route, they must circumnavigate marauding paramilitaries and impoverished villagers eager for their cargo.
In Cartagena, I interviewed the director, DP, and producers. Josef Wladyka is a U.S. citizen who is the son of a Japanese mother and a Polish father. He received the Spike Lee Fellowship while attending the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU.
You could say this is a drug story, but you should know it is much more than that. In a fisherman’s village the Afro Colombians are confronted with drug traffic taking place on their ancestral beaches where they have lived for generations.
Before I started Grad Film School at NYU, I spent several months backpacking with a close friend in South America. We traveled along the Pacific coast of Ecuador and Colombia, and went through these towns that were under siege by narco-trafficking. The locals would tell us stories about homemade submarines, narco-torpedoes, and different armed groups that would fight to control these areas. I became very interested in the subject and wanted to immerse myself more in the world. With the help of a friend from the region, I went back several times to Buenaventura, Tumaco, and other parts of the Pacific coast of Colombia to continue researching and collecting stories.
I also got permission to go to Malaga Naval Base where I saw confiscated narco-torpedoes and submarines first hand. I always had a camera with me and shot
lots of footage during my travels. I used that footage to make a pitch video for raising money from Kickstarter and private equity.
The film is an official Colombian production, recognized by the Ley de Cine (The Cinema Law). It is a 50-50 coproduction with Colombian producers Carolina Caicedo and Mirlanda Zapata. With our U.S. producers, Márcia Nunes and Elena Greenlee, that makes four female producers on this film.
Márcia knew Cine Colombia from her previous life in international sales with Goldcrest. Elena, Alan and I scouted in October 2012, one week in Bogotá and through Proimagenes we met many possible co-producers and visited locations. We chose young producers who were hungry for their first film; they were not rigid.
The U.S. producers wanted to do the film U.S. indie style, not in the usual Colombian style. We shot it in Buenaventura, Colombia’s largest port, which has been hit very hard by narco traffickers and violence.
This was the first feature for everyone. Except for Márcia, who got her Masters of Film Business at Gallatin School of NYU, the others all got their MFAs from Tisch, though some graduated two years ago and others four years ago.
How we, as foreigners, were able to make this film, opening up delicate, sensitive and violent stories, was based on my having no assumptions. And our own cross-cultural backgrounds helped.
We had a great premiere in Cartagena. The festival permits people to see films for free and we were able to test the Colombian audience’s reaction. The film explores the international issue of drug trafficking and the social-exclusion of the Afro-Colombian community on the coast from the mainstream economy in Colombia. The film is genre bending; it is not too arty and is not fully a genre movie. The audience of 800 to 1,000 Colombians laughed and cried, even danced in their seats. Three of the actors also saw the film for the first time, as did the crew. When the actors came up for the Q & A they received a standing ovation from the crowd. It was a beautiful moment.
We offered free audiovisual workshops for the community before we shot the film, and found many of our actors and crewmembers through that process. We used Kickstarter to raise US $60,000 to greenlight production and fund our community workshops in Buenaventura.
Film Independent bestowed the Canon Filmmaker Award upon the film’s two producers, who are also Film Independent Producing Fellows. The Canon Filmmaker Award Program is a program for Film Independent Fellows, alumni of the Los Angeles Film Festival and Spirit Awards Nominees and Winners. Producers Elena Greenlee and Márcia Nunes who had participated in the FIND Producing Lab with the project were awarded with the loan of a Canon camera package for their production. Further support was granted by the San Francisco Film Society, who, together with the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, awarded the film with two grants, one during the production phase, and one during post-production.
Jennifer Kushner, Director of Artist Development at Film Independent spoke with Elena and Márcia in those early days about Manos Sucias and its upcoming shoot, and here’s what they had to say then:Manos Sucias, Canon Filmmaker Award Winner Round 2
Our goal is for the film to inspire change in our audience, and in the region. We want audiences to realize that people like Jacobo and Delio are not perpetuating the drug trade, they are trapped in it; and to reflect on the impact their personal choices have on the situation.”
“When Josef and Alan brought us the script in early 2012, we immediately fell in love with it. The characters jumped off the page, and we couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
Pretty Pictures roster of films illustrates their exceptional taste in films:
"The Dark Valley" ("Das Finstere Tal") By Andreas Prochaska (Acquired From Films Distribution In Feb 2014)
"Dancing In Jaffa" By Hilla Medalia (Acquired From K5 International In Apr 2013)
"Omar" By Hany Abu-Assad (Acquired From The Match Factory In Feb 2013)
"The Look Of Love" By Winterbottom Michael (Acquired From Studiocanal In Aug 2012)
"Pieta" By Ki-Duk Kim (Acquired From Finecut Co. Ltd. In Aug 2012)
"Wadjda" By Haifa Al-Mansour (Acquired From The Match Factory In May 2012)
"The Hunt" ("Jagten") By Thomas Vinterberg (Acquired From Trust In Apr 2012)
"Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present" By Matthew Akers (Acquired From Dogwoof In Feb 2012)