In 2008, a band of Somali pirates commandeered a Ukrainian ship, the Faina, on its way to Kenya. Unbeknownst to the pirates, they had taken control of a freighter loaded with Soviet-era tanks, anti aircraft guns and a massive collection of firearms.

The United States worried that the pirates would offload the weapons in Somalia, but the pirates were not looking for artillery. They just wanted money. This was simply how they did business.

In the United States, filmmaker Cutter Hodierne watched with fascination as this story became an international issue. Investigations into the hijacked shipment uncovered corruption in the Kenyan and Ukrainian governments, and a shady arms deal between Kenya and South Sudan. At the center of the issue was a band of Somali pirates, some of whom were only teenagers.

Director Cutter Hodierne traveled to Africa to get the full perspective of the story of Somali pirates. — Jeanna Shepard

Mr. Hodierne became obsessed with accounts of Somali pirates in the news, but he wanted to see the other side of the stories, from the Somali perspective. In 2010, he decided to tell the story himself through a fictional film, but he realized that the only way to do it right was to travel to Africa and use Somali actors.

“I convinced my two producer partners to come with me to Africa for what we expected to be a five-week trip, and that turned into three and a half months of us begging, borrowing and stealing,” said Mr. Hodierne. “We were jailed at one point, the actors were jailed, we had a lot of issues with the Kenyan government because the actors we were dealing with were Somali, and Somalis in Kenya are really heavily persecuted. We went through this crazy experience making the film.”

Initially, Mr. Hodierne planned to tell the story of a Somali/American who moves back to Somalia to become a pirate. But as he spent time in Kenya, surrounded by Somalis who had grown up in neighborhoods with pirates and was exposed to the issues firsthand, the plot shifted. His film Fishing Without Nets grew out of stories from the actors’ own experiences.

“The only way to do this in as realistic a manner as we wanted to do it was by involving [the actors] heavily in the writing process,” said Mr. Hodierne. “They all deserve co-writing credits.”

A short version of Fishing Without Nets first played at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012. In 2014, Mr. Hodierne returned to Sundance with the feature length film, which won a Sundance directing award. The film will open in theatres in October of this year, but an early screening will play on Wednesday, July 23, as part of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival.

The film does not justify the violence committed by the pirates, but it does shed light on the conditions that led to such drastic actions. Some of the pirates are sympathetic characters, such as Abdi, who needs money to help his family, while others are motivated by simple greed. Rather than showing the characters as good or evil, Mr. Hodierne explores the gray areas, and the complex situations that can lead to violence.

“I don’t think anybody will watch this movie and think that I am condoning piracy or justifying it,” said Mr. Hodierne. “We tried really hard to show as much of the situation as we could instead of trying to make a comment on saying this was justified. That wasn’t my intention at all. I just knew that this situation was complicated, and it can be overly simplified by telling the story of an American ship captain and the Navy seals miraculous rescue against a much weaker enemy.”

Fishing Without Nets screens at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, July 23, at the Chilmark Community Center — dinner begins at 7 p.m. Director Cutter Hodierne will answer questions after the film.