In writing and directing “Secuestro Express,” which dramatizes a single case of what’s called “express kidnapping” (the random snatching of people who look well-to-do off the streets) that’s reached epidemic proportions in Caracas and turned the Venezuelan capital into one of the most dangerous places in the hemisphere, Jonathan Jakubowicz–whose family fled to South America from Poland during World War II–addressed a subject he knew from personal experience. Some years ago he’d been the victim of a kidnapping himself. And though he was held less than an hour and no ransom was demanded of his family–his kidnappers only forced him to get money for them from an ATM–the experience eventually moved him to make the film, but reflecting on it later led him to make it in the way he did. “The first thing you feel when you’re kidnapped is you retract,” Jakubowicz explained during a recent Dallas interview. “You hate them. I was a hater for a couple of years. I left Venezuela to come to the United States for a couple of years. Then I came back and saw with fresh eyes the reality that was going on, when I realized there were reasons for what happened to me.”

So on the one hand, the manner in which Jakubowicz depicts the snatching of Martin and Carla, a comfortably-off engaged couple, by three thugs from the ghetto reflected his own kidnapping. “What I did use was the way you perceive reality when you’ve been kidnapped,” he said. “You don’t see a place. You don’t see people. You just see fragmented images that combine in your brain to give you an idea of who you are with and where you are. And that’s what I tried to convey in the cinematic language the movie uses. In many ways people say they were kidnapped when watching the movie. That’s because you’ve watching the movie through the eyes of the kidnapped. All those shots, that’s the way I remember perceiving reality with the gun to my head for 45 minutes. It was really important for me to give you that feel–that you’re not witnessing the kidnapping, you’re experiencing it. It’s an incredibly violent movie, but nothing really very violent happens. It’s the threat of the violence that’s constant, and that’s the nature of the crime that we’re portraying.”

Perhaps the most harrowing momen illustrating this approach, in a film that includes many of them, comes when Martin, a wealthy fellow who’s contemptuous of the poverty-stricken part of the Caracas population from whom the kidnappers come, is cowering in the trunk of a car, being threatened by the kidnappers with their guns–and the camera shows the scene entirely from his point of view. The directorial decision in that sequence, Jakubowicz said, embodies the larger social and political message he intended his film to convey. “Martin represents that Latin America that’s been ruling us for years, not government-wise but society-wise–that selfish part of the society that we need to get rid of, a Latin America that’s selfish, that doesn’t accept anyone, that doesn’t even acknowledge themselves,” he said. “I wanted to throw all that violence against that selfish Latin America that each and every one of us has somewhere, to make sure the message comes across clear, that this is what you get for being selfish and for not caring about the society and who were are as a group. It was sort of twisting the little part of Martin that each and every one of us has inside.”

Jakubowicz’s description of his intention in that sequence points up the fact that while “Secuestro Express” tries to give the audience the visceral experience of what he endured when being kidnapped, it’s also designed to express the conviction to which he came after reflecting on the wider phenomenon that a single kidnapping–his own or Carla and Martin’s–represents. “What we’re trying to do with the film is to address the origins of the crime, which is the level of [economic] disparity. Around 60% of the population live in poverty, and 20% live in extreme wealth. The level of disparity is so huge that it doesn’t matter how many cops you have, it doesn’t matter how much security or bodyguards you get, the reasons are there for stuff like this to happen on a regular basis. And that’s what needs to be fixed–and that’s the hard one, the long-term vision that we have,” he said. “But there’s no other choice, because there’s no [degree of] security that can control this. The entire city is suffering from this out-of-control violence every day. There are fourteen thousand violent deaths a year in Caracas, and that’s for street crime. That’s as many deaths as you get in a deadly war. That’s much more deaths a year than what you got in Bosnia or Iraq, and this is just street violence. How many cops can you have? The problem is most of the cops are a part of this world. Most of the cops come from that world of poverty so that they’re also a part of the hatred against the people who have money. In many ways, why would they want to get into a gunfight for people that they feel have given their backs to them? It’s a very complicated problem, and a very hard one to solve. The reality is the only way to solve it, the only beginning, is the communication between both sides, because there’s not only the fact that they live in such different circumstances, but they live apart in communities. I spent twenty-three years of my life before I walked in the ghettos for the first time, and I realized I had absolutely no idea of the way most of my city lived, and they had no idea of the way the people who don’t come from the ghettos live. The movie was done by a group from both sides and incorporating both sides in order to show how the other side thinks. When I was writing the script, I talked to as many victims as I talked with kidnappers who had done this in the past. It was a very long process of getting to them and asking them to trust me and listening to what they had to say and why they do this and what happens–what’s the reasoning behind it. It was really important for me to not make one of the two million kidnapping movies that have been made, but make the one and only one that actually deals with the problem and tries to explain it. What’s important in the movie, and the nature of the crime, is that it’s not just to get money, but to use it as a way of social revenge. It’s one thing that there’s poor people. It’s a very different thing that there’s misery. Misery breeds hatred.”

It’s the hatred bred by such profound economic misery, Jakubowicz argued, that was at the root of the political division that has plagued Venezuela recently, expressed most clearly in the opposition to the “populist” anti-American regime of President Chavez. “I feel the political situation in Venezuela is a consequence of the same problem that originated ‘express’ kidnapping, and I feel that this [movie] is, in many ways, a microscopic look at our society,” he said. “The movie is dealing with the cause of the political problems; the political problem is a consequence. We have a real problem that we’re trying to address–we’re not talking about the consequences. It’s contextualizing [the crime, saying] ‘This is the universe that you’re going to watch, and I’ll tell you a story so you’ll understand everything that’s happening on the big map.’”

Venezuelan audiences have certainly responded to Jakubowicz’s attempt to initiate a dialogue on the country’s socio-economic realities, making “Secuestro Express,” as he put it, “three weeks in a row the number one movie in Venezuela. It looks like it might become the biggest-grossing film of all time in Venezuela–our numbers right now are beating ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ which is the number one movie of all time. The reason for that is because it communicates something to both sides, something that both sides are willing to listen to for the first time, because we as a society have realized there’s a point of no return, and how we are destroying each other. It doesn’t matter how rich you are–if you have to live with bodyguards and bulletproof cars, you’re not living under human conditions, either. The real message of the whole thing is that we need to develop the entire society in order for anyone to live under human conditions.”