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Stolen Seas, Somali Piracy Debunked: An Interview with the filmmaker

By Yasmeen Maxamuud

Stolen Seas is yet another “Pirate” documentary for a world that has become obsessed with Somali Piracy. The filmmaker follows the hijacking of the CEC Future; a Danish owned ship flying with a “Bahamas” flag (big companies rent flags from mostly poor countries to bypass legal restriction) that was hijacked while traveling off the coast of Somalia in 2008.

It’s all too surreal as it should be that malnourished teens with mysterious faces hidden behind colorful shawls are running the scheme. We soon come to find out through Mr. Thymaya Payne’s lenses Somali piracy is much more complex and yet very simple in its inception. In 90 minutes Mr. Payne manages to bring Ship industry experts, piracy Somali_Pirate_High Seeexperts, Somali political figures, the history of the Somali civil war and those adversely affected by the hijacking.

The film delves into the politics that may have had a hand in Piracy, we come to know in the film that pirates are a causality of their own history, that of the Cold war and the dumping of endless old weapon that have made meek –weak nomad fishermen into destructive and destructible pirates.

While pirates litter the ship, the crew, mostly underpaid Flipino nationals that according to the film are the majority of ship crew workers in the world, suffer, some having serious life threatening illness. The fate of these poor Filipinos is in the hands of ruthless, Qat high pirates, and the pirate negotiator who does most of his negations from the comforts of a large house furnished Somali style with comfortable cushions under a breezy fan somewhere in the Northern part of Somalia. When not tending to the needs of his seventy-seven camels elegantly gracing the country side, he talks fondly of his young son whom he is eager to re-unite with after the long drawn negotiations are over, but soon we find him in negotiation mode with his irate colorful language and never yielding negotiation tactic.

His Danish counterpart equally makes deals from the comforts of a contemporary office somewhere in Denmark while smiles of a handsome family emanate from a picture frame that adorns his office.

This is the stuffs that real pirate hijacking of Somali origin are made out of, not the type of skulls and sword of the Jolly Roger flag but the real deal of skinny fishermen turn pirate with Kalashnikovs that turn deadly, whose lives have little meaning beyond survival by any means necessary.

Mr. Payne depicts the emotional side of the families of the actual hostages, daughters and wives ready to have their fathers and husbands in their fold. He also managed to bring talking heads, analysts that give history, economics and political analysis of piracy, learned people in their fields. If you think this type of piracy is limited to the reckless skinny kids hugging life size weapons, think again, you soon realize that it’s a business with many complex layers that until now no one has figured out.

Please Read Mr. Thymaya Payne’s Interview with

WardheerNews: Could you share with our readers about your background?

Thymaya Payne: I was born in upstate NY. I spent most of my childhood travelling around the world with my father, who worked in high-end international tourism.  I did my undergrad at the University of Chicago and received my masters in film from the American Film Institute. I live in Los Angeles.

WDN: In order to tell this story you had to dedicate years to research, interview and embed yourself with the pirates. Why do you feel this story must be told?

Payne: The one thing I learned is that you owe it to whomever your subjects are to tell their story with honesty and integrity. That takes patience.

WDN: How did you get in touch with the pirates and gained their thrust?

Payne: I worked with a Somali friend who knew them. He was my point person and accomplished most of the really incredible footage.

WDN: How did you meet with the negotiator Mr. Ali, the central figure to the film and come upon the CRC Futures hijacking?

Payne: I contacted Mr. Ali through email.

WDN: Could you share with us your best moments and challenging moments of making the documentary?

Payne: I think my best moments are probably not even on camera. I really loved meeting Somali people and sharing in their culture. It was a real eye opening experience. I treasure that. Some of the more challenging moments were probably just dealing with the moving goals money worries. Believe it or not dealing with Hollywood crap was more difficult than finding pirates.

WDN: There is a scene with a young man ‘Ibrahim’, it’s very sad to see what this dirty money has done to the core of the society, why did you feel the need to portray such a figure not so different from an African American gangster, or drug dealer in the middle of inner city America? What message did you expect this figure in your film would send to millions of people who will watch the documentary?

Payne: I did not set that scene up. He was actually listening originally to 50 cent in the background. I had to take out 50 cent because it was too expensive to license. So I replaced it with similar music. It’s not my job to lie about the realities. Overall though, I was fascinated by how similar teenagers are the world over. They are all listening to the same music. So I think especially for US audiences it’s a positive message when this scene comes up. They see that kid and think he could be their little brother not just some scary pirate far away. Overall I do think it’s sad that the values of our world are so materialistic. But that is the truth. On the other hand, I love that Ibrahim was just being like any other cocky 16 year old, showing off, dancing in his room, nervous about his future. I liked that scene a lot.  The world is small.

WDN: Knowing that Mr. Ali is in jail for Piracy, do you suppose your film had anything to do with his imprisonment and do you have any contacts with him behind bars?

Payne: No my film had nothing to do with his imprisonment.  I have not spoken to him directly, but have inquired about his son through his lawyer etc.

WDN: What have you learned in making the documentary movie about Somali people and the entire piracy situation?

Payne: Gosh that is a big question.  I think mostly I have learned that Somali’s are some of the most dynamic, intense, loving and infuriating people. Ha ha.  I sort of love the culture to be honest. Mostly I learned that in an odd way if Somalis can get past their history of conflict they are well adapted to a tumultuous globalized future. In terms of piracy, I learned that it’s just symptom of much larger ills. And that the real story is Somalia, not its piracy. How else can we let people know about places like Daadab, but not for pirates?

WDN: What was the reception of the film from the American public at large and the Somali community in particular, and shipping industry nations portrayed in the film?

Payne: Overall it’s been really great. I would love to have more Somali community screenings though. Somalis tell me they are so happy that someone is trying to tell their side of the story too! Americans love learning about Somalia: a mysterious place in our imagination.

WDN:  It’s been five years since the hijacking of the ship and the peak of the Somali piracy? What is the current state of this issue?

Payne: It’s definitely on the wane. However piracy is growing in other parts of Africa.  The big question is what if the US and its allies leave will piracy return? Unless you solve the issues on land, I would say piracy won’t be history.

WDN: Thank you Mr. Payne
Payne: Thank you Yasmeen for the opportunity to share the documentary with WDN readers.

See the link below for more info about the documentary
Yasmeen Maxamuud

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