Art Imitates Life in Sundance-Bound Abduction Comedy ‘Kidnapping Inc.’ After Three Crew Members Held Hostage During Production

Art Imitates Life in Sundance-Bound Abduction Comedy ‘Kidnapping Inc.’ After Three Crew Members Held Hostage During Production

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Art imitates life in the Sundance-bound “Kidnapping Inc.,” a dark comedy about a botched kidnapping plot that became eerily prescient when three crew members were abducted during the production of the film.

Haitian director Bruno Mourral’s feature debut follows a pair of hapless kidnappers tasked with what appears to be a simple abduction for hire, only to find that it’s anything but when they’re suddenly drawn into a vast political conspiracy.

In a harrowing twist, the production team’s convoy was waylaid by gunmen one night as cast and crew were returning from a location shoot. Three crew members were abducted, setting off frantic negotiations with local gangs, who were demanding a ransom of $1 million per hostage.

The incident would soon draw in the president of the neighboring Dominican Republic, where two of the hostages were from. Eventually, the prime minister of Haiti intervened to free the three men.

The abductions underscored the growing insecurity in the Caribbean island nation, which has the highest number of kidnappings per capita in the world. Mourral tells Variety that the production team was torn in the wake of the attack on its convoy, with several of the foreign cast and crew insisting on shutting the shoot down.

The director and his local team, however, stood firm. “The Haitian team really stood up for me and said, ‘This is our life. This is what happens in Port-au-Prince,’” Mourral says. “‘We are used to this. We have to continue our lives.’”

Written by Mourral, Gilbert Mirambeau Jr. and Jasmuel Andri, “Kidnapping Inc.” is produced by Promenades Films (France), BHM Films (France) and Peripheria (Canada). The film, which world premieres Jan. 22 in the Midnight strand of the Sundance Film Festival, has been acquired for world sales by XYZ Films.

Born and raised in the Haitian city of Cap-Haitien, Mourral studied film in Paris but returned to his homeland shortly after his father was killed in the crossfire of a turf war between rival gangs in 2005. He launched his own commercials company in 2007, working between Haiti, France and countries in Africa and the Caribbean. In 2017, he produced and directed his first medium-length film, “Kafou,” before launching production on “Kidnapping Inc.” in 2019.

The film begins when the son of a wealthy presidential candidate is snatched by a pair of bumbling kidnappers demanding a hefty ransom for his return. Doc (Jasmuel Andri) and Zoe (Rolapthon Mercure) are two amateur gangsters and soccer freaks who must deliver the young man to their ruthless boss. But impulsive Zoe accidentally kills the hostage.

Faced with a terrible fate for botching the job, the duo stumble upon Patrick (Patrick Joseph) and his heavily pregnant wife, Laura (Gessica Geneus), who are racing to catch a flight out of Haiti at all costs to give birth in the U.S. Unfortunately for the young couple, they face an even bigger problem: Patrick looks exactly like the senator’s dead son.

The expectant father-to-be suddenly finds himself in the kidnappers’ crosshairs, at the same time that larger forces are coming into play. In the midst of a heated election and the anticipation around a high-stakes soccer match, this unlikely cast of characters soon finds itself at the center of a wide-ranging political conspiracy.

The wild — and wildly entertaining — twists and turns in the film’s plot are perhaps no less improbable than the long and winding journey that brought “Kidnapping Inc.” to completion.

As principal photography began in 2019, the security situation in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, was rapidly deteriorating. There were days when cast and crew were unable to leave the safety of their hotel. Crucial equipment was tied up in a customs snafu. After some 40 days of shooting, the production shut down with less than half the film completed. “It was a disaster,” Mourral says.

Then the pandemic hit.

Throughout 2020 and into 2021, the production seemed increasingly star-crossed. French actress Anabel Lopez was stranded in Paris due to COVID travel restrictions. A political stand-off in the Haitian parliament all but shut the country down, and one of the film’s supporting actors was killed. Meanwhile, the production’s debts were mounting. Then came the harrowing night when the crew was ambushed on its way back to Port-au-Prince.

Rolapthon Mercure (left) and Jasmuel Andri star as amateur gangsters in “Kidnapping Inc.” Courtesy of XYZ Films

The travails, however, didn’t end with the hostages’ safe return. No sooner had the production team breathed a sigh of relief when Haiti was pushed to the brink of chaos, after President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in Port-au-Prince. “It was the first time I thought that I wasn’t going to finish the film,” says Mourral.

Yet the production soldiered on, wrapping photography in October 2021. More than two years and countless setbacks later, “Kidnapping Inc.” will finally have its long-awaited premiere in Park City.

Mourral says he hopes the film will shine a spotlight on the increasingly dire plight of Haiti, whose kidnapping crisis is made all the worse by rampant corruption and political impunity.

However, he also sees “Kidnapping Inc.” as a tribute to ordinary Haitians, most of whom have been impacted by abductions, gang violence and widespread insecurity. That they confront those challenges with characteristic humor, he adds, is a testament to Haitians’ insistence on finding a way to remain hopeful for brighter days ahead.

“It’s a process of resilience,” Mourral says. “When you have so much darkness, it’s a way of seeing a little bit of light.”

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