In Focus: Josef Wladyka on Manos Sucias

Mano Sucias'  Alan Blanco (co-writer/DP) with Josef Wladyka (co-writer/director) on location in Colombia. PHOTO: Nick Huynh

Mano Sucias' Alan Blanco (co-writer/DP) with Josef Wladyka (co-writer/director) on location in Colombia. PHOTO: Nick Huynh


Two-time SFFS/KRF Filmmaking Grant Winner; $90,000 for postproduction, Fall 2013 and  $45,00 for production, Spring 2013.

What was your inspiration for this story?

I was traveling on the Pacific coast of South America with a close friend. We hitched a ride with a bunch of fishermen to a hidden beach on the border of Colombia and Ecuador. The locals told us stories of bodies and bales of cocaine washing upon their shores and how the drug trade affects the fishing communities in these areas. As we continued north into Colombia I gathered more stories about the problems that plague the people of this region; stories about drug traffickers, paramilitaries, and guerillas. Each story was a glimpse into a dense and complicated world. As a filmmaker, I want to open a window to a world unknown to audiences. After this initial trip, I spent five years traveling back to Colombia gathering personal accounts from people whose lives remain entrenched in the drug trade. It was these stories that became the basis for Manos Sucias.


What do you see as the greatest challenges for filmmakers today?

I think the greatest challenge for independent filmmakers today is maintaining the necessary momentum to push your project forward. Rent, bills, and the distractions of everyday life can all detract from the time and energy a film requires. What goes hand and hand with this struggle is perhaps the other greatest challenge in filmmaking: finding the right team within all these circumstances. I'm so blessed to have Alan Blanco as my cowriter, and Elena Greenlee and Márcia Nunes as my producers. The project would have never gotten off the ground and kept flying without them. They've all sacrificed so much for this film, and I can't stress enough how important this aspect of creating is, that it's all about the people behind you—you gotta have the right individuals and dynamics to make not just your film, but the whole process, a success. Filmmaking is truly a labor of love, and I couldn't have moved forward without my team behind me shouldering much of the weight.

Producers Elena Greenlee and Márcia Nunes on location in Colombia. PHOTO: Nick Huynh

Producers Elena Greenlee and Márcia Nunes on location in Colombia. PHOTO: Nick Huynh

 What new opportunities are making the biggest difference to your filmmaking process?

I would definitely say the evolution of camera technology has had a profound impact on my filmmaking process and has provided more opportunity for independent filmmakers. A generous grant from Canon allowed us to shoot on the Canon C300, a camera that's very fast and compact, making it perfect for my process. Oftentimes, we were cramped on a tiny fishing boat and in extremely hot, humid tropical settings. We could turn the camera on and shoot immediately, which allowed me lots of takes while still staying on schedule. Another opportunity that has impacted this project is the use of social media. It allows filmmakers to get in contact and connect with people to approach our work as a collective effort. Crowdfunding is a great tool, and we used Kickstarter to raise a small portion of our budget and launch us into production. This film could not have been made without the huge generosity and support of all of those who contributed in so many ways and believed in our project.


Describe what impact San Francisco Film Society support has had on the film.

My gratitude for SFFS and what their support has done for our film is immeasurable. We are such a small film and they helped bring awareness to our project and put us on the map. The two grants we received helped us breathe more life into our work during production and provided us with the post funds we need so we may complete the movie properly for it to reach its maximum potential. Being a part of this community is nothing less than an honor, and as much as I am grateful, I am also inexpressibly humbled. I'm so thankful there are organizations like the San Francisco Film Society, who support independent filmmakers and allow us to focus and dedicate ourselves to our projects and share stories that would otherwise remain untold.

The Spring 2014 SFFS / KRF Filmmaking Grant round is currently open to apply!

The Film Society has established an excellent track record of success with the 37 projects previously funded by SFFS / KRF Filmmaking Grants, with supported films winning top honors at the world’s premier festivals, garnering critical and popular acclaim and capturing the imaginations of audiences worldwide. As the grant program continues to grow, more and more exceptional independent features will join the distinguished company of such films as Short Term 12, Destin Cretton’s sophomore feature which won both the Narrative Grand Jury Award and Audience Award at South by Southwest 2013; Ryan Coogler’s debut feature Fruitvale Station, which won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award in the narrative category at Sundance 2013 and is an Oscar hopeful in multiple categories; and Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin’s debut phenomenon which won Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize and Cannes’ Camera d’Or in 2012 and earned four Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture).