OUT OF MY HAND tells the powerful narrative of a Liberian rubber-plantation worker who leaves his country and risks everything to seek opportunities as a taxi driver in New York City.
Tragic, moving and triumphant, Takeshi Fukunaga shows his audience an authentic story that most immigrants experience when coming to America to start a new life. Opening shots show Cisco, the protagonist, struggling in Liberia as a plantation worker, and the story comes full circle with the film ending as he fixes his taxi in New York City. The parallel between two completely different worlds, in the nature of Liberia and the bustle of the city, are blurred through cinematography. Fukunaga sought to create a humane film that people will watch from an objective, human perspective.
Tell us about the story because it’s a very complex story and powerful narrative. Where did you get the idea for the film? What of it is true or based on personal experience?
I was first involved with this documentary since the original work in Liberia that was a project by Ryo Murakami, who was also the cinematographer for the Libera part of the movie. It really struck me to see how those people maintain strength and unity, despite the severe working conditions, and also to see the faces of the workers who work hard behind the products we use every day. I’m originally from Japan but I’ve been in the states for the past 12 years (and in New York for 10 years) and I always wanted to tell a story about immigrants in New York of a cab driver and someone who we encounter on a day-to-day basis. So I thought combining those two worlds together, and presenting one piece to raise awareness on the simple fact that there’s always people who are working so hard behind the things we use. The immigrants we encounter have all of these incredible stories and their own challenges they are facing.
I really loved the scene when Cisco just moved to New York City and he’s experiencing his first moment as a cab driver with the New Yorkers. Typically this is how cab drivers are treated by their customers. This really made me think about the way I’ve treated cab drivers and how I haven’t always considered the way I act toward people. Did you want this scene to reveal an elusive truth about America and about immigrants who come from other countries?
Especially when you are living in a big city like New York you kind of forget about things because you’re caught up with your own problems. Or sometimes you’re not as generous or nice as you should have been to other people. Just because of the relationship of the customer and someone in a service industry for you, I feel like we often forget that at the end of the day we are the same people. You know, that cab driver could be a very intelligent doctor back in his own country, but we often can’t afford the time to push our imagination to what’s behind what we see in front of us.
If the audience after the movie can take the time and think about those things, and maybe just simply be nicer to other people, I think that would be a success.
Let’s talk about the cast. How did you create such an authentic cast? Where did you cast to get such authenticity and how did you go about the process?
We were very very fortunate to be connected with this organization called “Liberian Movie Union,” and then they were an affiliate of the Liberian Government. Since the industry there is still so small, they can’t make their living by just doing film, but because they’re supported by the government they’re kind of leading the industry. They were really really helpful and instrumental from the beginning of the pre-production in Liberia. They put up the mass radio and TV announcement about the casting, any by the time I got there everybody knew about the casting and hundreds of people showed up to the audition. I opened the casting to the people who don’t have any experience as well, and then amongst them I was lucky to have found such gifted and talented people.
The one challenge I had with the actors was to tone down their performances. Culturally, they are accustomed to a more overdramatic side of acting. So I had two weeks of rehearsals, and the main goal was to really tone down the performance and introduce them to a more subtle way of acting that can be more effective in cinema. They adjusted beautifully and it was very wonderful to see.
Did you experience any personal adversity when you were shooting in Liberia?
There were many emotionally moving moments. The beautiful, gorgeous scenery that I’ve never seen anywhere else in my life. And then how strong the Liberians are despite the traumatic history of the civil war. They are all making every effort to move ahead and bring the country to a better stage. That was one of the things I heard from lots of actors while casting; that they are excited about the project because it wasn’t about the war. It was more about the positive portrayal of people, and it was simply about humans, so they wanted to be a part of it not just because for their career but because they thought this is a great opportunity for Liberia and they wanted to be a part of it.
Are there any other truths about immigration in this story?
It is set in this particular place in the particular situation, but at the end of the day its about a man who is trying to go beyond his limits. I hope it’s encouraging to anybody. I didn’t make this movie as a Japanese man telling the story of a Liberian man, I approached the story as a human trying to tell a humane story with a universal message. So I hope people take off their glasses and just watch it as the story of a man.
What is the main message you want people to take away from “Out of My Hand”?
It’s really to raise awareness on the simple fact that there’s always people working really hard behind things we use every day and there’s always stories behind the people we encounter every day. By knowing that, I think we could maybe be nicer to each other and be aware of things or what’s surrounding us. But most of all, it’s a human story, so I hope this could be encouraging to anybody no matter where they come from or what situation they’re in.
The film officially opens through ARRAY in LA and New York on November 13, followed by one-night screenings in other cities across the United States.
OUT OF MY HAND
Starting 11/13 Los Angeles Downtown Independent
Starting 11/13 New York Imagenation RAW Space
Starting 11/18 New York Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
ONE-NIGHT TOUR ENGAGEMENTS:
OUT OF MY HAND
11/14 Atlanta, GA Georgia Pacific Auditorium presented by Bronzelens
11/17 Philadelphia, PA African American Museum presented by Reelblack
11/20 New York, NY Imagenation RAW Space
11/22 Montgomery, AL Pure Art Literary Café
11/24 Seattle, WA Ark Lodge Cinema
11/26 Houston, TX Houston Museum of African American Culture
12/01 Calabash, NC South Brunswick Islands Center
12/06 Boston, MA Museum of Fine Art Boston
12/08 Washington, DC Anacostia Arts Center presented by Parallel Film Collective
12/12 Greensboro, NC The Artist Bloc
Array Releasing (www.ArrayNow.com) is an LA-based arts collective dedicated to the amplification of films by people of color and women founded as AFFRM in 2010 by filmmaker Ava DuVernay.