The Somali pirates in the documentary “Stolen Seas” brandish bazookas instead of swords and have roughly the same sense of chivalry as the husbands on “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.” “There’s no such thing as a romantic Somali pirate,” says one of the movie’s many talking heads.
You probably suspected as much. Still, Thymaya Payne’s ambitious doc contains plenty of surprising and interesting details about the Somali pirate trade, which, according to the film, costs the shipping industry $7 billion to $12 billion annually.
Payne frames “Stolen Seas” around the 2008 hijacking of a Danish merchant ship in the Gulf of Aden, featuring audio of the lengthy negotiations between the pirates and the owners in Copenhagen. It also has dramatic footage of the pirates in action, taken by Somali reporters whom Payne hired.
What really elevates the film, though, is the crucial context that Payne provides to explain — but not justify — the pirates’ actions. The movie details the toll famine and poverty have taken in Somalia and notes how unregulated fishing has cost the locals $300 million a year.
The movie’s central figure, Ishmael Ali, is a single father hired by the pirates to negotiate with foreign ship owners. Ali considers himself an independent contractor, not a pirate, doing what he can to provide for his son. “Piracy feeds a lot of people,” he notes. He’s not happy about it. But he’s not apologizing, either.
“Stolen Seas.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. At Laemmle’s Music Hall, Beverly Hills.