Debuting The Pirates of Somalia (previously titled Dabka) at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, fimmaker Bryan Buckley had been fascinated by the subjects of the film’s title long before helming that project.
“Originally, I had done a short doc for the UN on refugees. I met Somali people in Kenya and I realized that we weren’t getting the proper story from them,” Buckley explains. “We finished this short doc and nobody watched it at all, so I took it upon myself to create something outside of the UN, which was this film called Asad, which was a short, narrative film using refugees as actors—a film that would go on to get an Academy nomination, and Desmond Tutu saying how it helped the South African culture, regarding xenophobia.”
It was during the shooting of Asad that the director came upon Canadian journalist Jay Bahadur and his book, The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World, both of which would be at the center of his narrative feature. “In the middle of shooting that film, we needed a reference—we couldn’t shoot in Somalia because of the conditions there, and Jay’s book was the only piece of reference we could find,” Buckley told Deadline’s Anthony D’Alessandro, sitting down with star Barkhad Abdi for a panel discussion following an Awardsline screening of the film. “It just so happened he was on The Daily Show when we were down there, and his book had just hit the newsstands. We’re like, ‘No one’s bought it,’ so I bought the rights to the book.”
Starring Evan Peters as the then-rookie journalist, the film sees Bahadur embed himself among the pirates of Somalia, providing a firsthand account of his experience among the pirates that would allow the world to understand them. Described by Buckley as someone who has been “inspiring people to go out and bring change”—and inspiring people to challenge their assumptions—the journalist would ultimately film a cameo for the project.
Earning his first Oscar nomination for 2014’s Captain Phillips—another feature centering on Somali pirates—Abdi has never met an actual Somali pirate, or so he says, though he was able to explain why Bahadur was able to move among them so easily.
“It’s the culture. The Somali culture is so friendly,” the actor explained. “That’s one thing we managed to show very well in this movie, the culture and how the Somali people really are, rather than how it’s portrayed.”
To hear more from the Pirates of Somalia duo regarding a detailed prep process and Al Pacino’s involvement with the project, click above.