Director Theo Love Speaks on ‘The Legend of Cocaine Island’

ATM sits with Filmmaker/Director Theo Love about putting a light-hearted sense to the business of cocaine. He discusses his recent Netflix film, The Legend of Cocaine Island, and components when filming. The film is about a family man who goes after the American Dream in trying to chase the truth of an urban legend about cocaine being in the ocean.

ATM: What are the classical traits that are mirrored to someone going after the American Dream?

TL: It was like the American Dream taken to like a McDonald’s supersize level. It is kind of resembles what it started as, but it is taken toward the extreme. This is what we tried to do with a lot of themes in this movie, which is not to be so subtle about it and take it over the top.  

ATM: Do you believe these classical traits of the American Dream still exist today? Also, do you believe there is a new modern sense to the American Dream?

TL: Wow, this is a deep question. I believe the American Dream has to be redefined for each generation of America. We can learn from past generations of how they approached the American Dream. And how historically they approached the identity of being called an American. This is the exciting thing about progress; you get to redefine things and see who we are moving forward. I think the American Dream is alive and well. But is it what our grandparents might imagine for us? Probably not, but we are here. We are Americans, and I am proud of it.

ATM: Would you agree the presence of cocaine in this film drives the characters to greed?

TL: They were motivated by a sense of greed. Greed can look different for a lot of different people. For a lot of people, it is just having ambition and working hard. For others, it is taking a big risk. For Rodney, it was going on a treasure hunt for 2 million dollars of buried cocaine.

ATM: Do you believe the characters decided to be oblivious to the initial perception of cocaine or were they just trying to get out of their situation?

TL: I do not think drug dealers are passionate about drugs or believe in their product. Drug dealers are motivated by money. I do not think there was a whole lot of moral thought going through their heads. We tried to approach the characters without judgment. If I am talking to someone who has done something highly illegal, then I am going to try telling his story the way he wants it presented. Also, the closest to his perspective. This is my job, which is to present people with little judgment as possible. With projects like this, to tell the story properly, we had to interview active people in the drug trade. I did not go in there talking to them about the morality of what they did. I wanted to know about the business of what they were doing. There are great stories that are better suited to address some of the complex moral issues surrounding drugs. With this movie, we wanted to tell a light-hearted treasure hunt. It was not about the drugs. It was about a mythical legend. At the end of the day, there is still a mystery as to whether there were drugs at all. 

ATM: Did you ask more open-ended questions or closed-ended questions during your interviewing process?

TL: Generally, it was a loose interview. We had a conversation for a couple of hours. I try to establish a good rapport. I allow them to speak in a storytelling manner instead of a question and answer.

ATM: Explain a scene that allowed you to express yourself through laughter.

TL: the scene that makes me still laugh until this day is the turtle scene. It is something about being up close when two tortoises are making love. We can hear their sounds of pleasure. It is something about this that makes me laugh. This is the eighth-grade boy coming out in me.

ATM: What reflects your film subject Rodney as a family man?

TL: Well, Rodney has a family, and he is a man. He tried to provide for his family. Beyond this – I am not going to call him normal. Before this, there was nothing abnormal about him. This is the craziest thing that ever happened in his life. This was one of the best parts working on this film. It was getting to know his family. They are a close-knit family that sticks by each other. This is amicable. He loves his family to death.

ATM: What three slogans to best represent a perspective on this film.

TL: A Documentary Treasure Hunt.

ATM: Two more.

TL: Gosh this is hard. You got me stuck. Do you know of any?

ATM: Not at the moment.

TL: It used to be called White Tide.

ATM: One more.

TL: This is not a slogan, but this is a title we threw around. You know the term for marijuana that is found washing up on shore is called square grouper. Well, they call cocaine that washes up a white lobster. We could not get anyone to say it on camera.

ATM: Why didn’t anyone want to say white lobster?

TL: It is not that they did not want to, but they did not know the term. We did not want to put the word in their mouths. We are documentary filmmakers. We have some integrity here.

ATM: From this film shown at the Tribeca Film Festival to now, what have you observed about the progression of the film with its moral compass?

TL: When it was premiered at Tribeca, we were just a little independent film. We did not think very many people would get a chance to watch our movie. Netflix came in and took us under their wing. They put it out in a huge way. It is also very cool watching their process on how to release a movie worldwide to 190 countries. It blows my mind that our little film that premiered at Tribeca is this wide.