This is one in a series of posts for HuffPost Culture's "The Sundance Diaries," a month-long multimedia diary kept by the international filmmakers whose 64 short films were selected for the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
In the days after Sundance's announcement that Fishing Without Nets was accepted, one and all were invited to Park City, without a consideration for how friends and family (and taxi drivers and shop attendants and grocery clerks and...) would obtain tickets to our shows. It was gleeful, this 'come one, come all' attitude. On the heels of Thanksgiving was Christmas! and New Years! and Sundance! Huzzah!
Farah Rashid, on-set translator English to Somali for "Fishing Without Nets," and an excellent Scrabble-r, described the experience of chewing miraa as "building sandcastles in the wind," because chewers have a tendency to dream big while using miraa. He could have been describing my attitude in the first few days of the Sundance high.
Quick research about Somali pirates will reveal a culture dependent on a nausea-killing plant called khat, or 'miraa' in Swahili. It's a stimulant that allows pirates in small fishing boats to roll with the waves of the dark blue seas, without the fear of sea sickness or the anxiety of attacking a ship.
Part of our prop/food budget was allocated to miraa for the cast: to maintain the reality of the film, to keep people comfortable on those small boats bouncing in the sea, and because all but our lead actor was a regular user of this tobacco-meets-Ritalin source of plant courage.
Plus, in the same way "building it" was coaxing the deceased players to "The Field of Dreams," miraa was one important hook to corralling our cast, who was always in demand of more miraa. The more miraa, the happier the pirates. But we needed some guidance at first.
Abubakr, our Somali producer, taught us the ins and outs of miraa haggling: he would weigh bunches against others in his hands. Measure the different lengths of stems. Lots of taste testing. After a purchase was made, our pockets were teeming, but that didn't mean we were holding for long. As soon as we arrived on set, we were swarmed.
While slapping his two index fingers together with a gesture meaning "friend," Abubakr would put one arm around my shoulder and use the other arm to search my person, expecting a stash of miraa somewhere. He was the friendliest of pirates when my pockets were most full.
Our cast member Mustaf's miraa mysteriously went missing before we had a chance to pass a round to everyone in the scene. He'd hold his palms out to show he had nothing, saying, "It's, I no know." He'd point to Hussein, who corroborated the mystery, in a ruse straight from the Abbot and Costello playbook. When we gave Mustaf another portion, Hussein's pile grew larger.
N.B. Mustaf has a piece of his calf missing from a shotgun blast, and Hussein can balance an AK47 on his shoulders, no hands. Hard as hell, they still have time for jokes.
Continuity be damned, they would finish the miraa before we had a chance to shoot the scene. The comedy was not lost on us, but we had scenes to shoot. We became savvy, and started rationing in waves, rather than whole portions. Before long they were accusing me of stealing miraa for myself. Maybe I was.
Who's on first?
After the tickets to the Shorts Programs sold out, the miraa high fizzled out. I stopped inviting the dry cleaners, the flower shop owners, the candlestick makers. It's a blessing people are interested in these shorts, and I can't wait for the packed houses. A live audience for our short! A big screen!
I just hope the guy next to me on the Metro a few weeks ago doesn't show up opening night, palms up. I won't have any miraa to spare.
WATCH miraa-heavy footage from behind the scenes on "Fishing Without Nets":
WATCH a trailer for "Fishing Without Nets":
Follow John Hibey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/somaliproduced