JONATHAN JAKUBOWICZ was barely out of his teens when a gang of car-jackers put a gun to his head and kidnapped him and a friend as they drove home through a middle-class neighbourhood of Caracas five years ago. Forty-five minutes later, the two young men were left dumped by the roadside wearing only their underwear, relieved of their car, clothes and the contents of their bank accounts - but lucky to escape with their lives. Jakubowicz had just become another statistic in the crime wave that has engulfed Venezuela's capital over the past decade amid political and social upheaval in the oil-rich nation once known fondly as the Saudi Arabia of South America. Crime, and specifically kidnapping, has spiralled, with the reported figures of abductions rocketing from 51 in 1995 to 296 in 2003. The real figure is probably vastly higher - most victims' families prefer not to involve authorities. The kidnapping scourge of which he had terrifying first-hand experience has provided Jakubowicz with the inspiration for his stylish directorial feature debut, Secuestro Express (Kidnap Express). The movie tells the story of a young couple's nightmare as they careen through the underbelly of Caracas in the hands of three thugs who've made them their latest payday, demanding US$20,000 in ransom from the couple's parents. Jakubowicz's film draws attention to the phenomenon of express kidnapping, in which victims are usually snatched for several hours before a reasonable ransom is paid without law enforcement agencies ever being alerted. 'Traditional kidnapping in Latin America has been carried out by organised crime, mafia or guerillas, and they usually have files on you,' Jakubowicz says. 'Express kidnapping is a street crime. It's done randomly. They choose their victims coming out of a bar or somewhere based on how they look, what they're wearing, the car they're driving. It's a different type of crime and it's usually not reported to the police. 'You don't even have to be the son of a rich man. You just have to be driving a decent car. Because what you're driving will determine how much they ask for. In our kidnapping, they didn't ask for a ransom. They just took us to an ATM at five to midnight and made us take out all the money we could. And then after midnight they took us to another ATM and made us withdraw the daily limit. Then, they took the car, our wallets, our cell phones, what we were wearing and just left us on the highway.' Shot largely with handheld cameras, Secuestro Express has a jerky, disorienting tempo that captures the terror of the central characters' predicament superbly. At about 90 minutes, the movie manages to somehow feel much longer - mirroring the director's own kidnapping. 'We had a gun to our heads for 45 minutes, but it felt like six hours,' he says. 'You couldn't believe it was 45 minutes. What goes through your mind? You think about how little you've lived when you're only 21, the big plans that you had. Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong? Why was I chosen? Who are these people?' The sadism of the kidnappers also left a strong impression on the young filmmaker. 'Why are they enjoying it so much? That was one of the things that struck me. Why do kidnappers take so much pleasure in what they're doing? 'I understood that it's a social revenge. For them it's not just about the money. It's about punishing the part of society that they feel has forgotten about them, the part of society they belong to. And that's something I didn't understand before.' Underlying Secuestro Express' script is a rallying cry against the root causes of the crime wave, namely the vast disparity between Caracas' haves and have-nots. 'Eighty per cent of the people live in poverty,' says Jakubowicz. 'The point of the movie is that you can't solve this problem with security. No amount of bodyguards will stop it. Express kidnapping is the fastest-growing crime in Latin America, and the only way to solve this is to deal with the origins of the problem, which is that our society is completely unfair. The reality is that poor people and rich people don't really look at each other as human beings in Latin America right now. And in a situation like that there's no possibility of a solution.' The documentary feel of Secuestro Express was given a heightened sense of realism by the fact that, during filming, no fewer than six crew members had relatives kidnapped. 'That gives you an idea of how bad the problem is,' says Jakubowicz, who is nonplussed at the suggestion that his movie is hardly going to have tourists flocking to Venezuela. 'There's 5 per cent occupancy in the hotels in Caracas,' he says. 'There aren't really any people to scare away because there's no tourism. We have a social emergency in Venezuela that we need to address before we start inviting people home.' Many Venezuelans have decided not to wait for a solution to the country's ills, leaving the country for safer climes, but Jakubowicz isn't one of them, even though with the film's success there may in theory be an increased risk to his own personal safety. 'The film is being embraced by all sides,' he says. 'I've never felt more safe or secure in Caracas. Any attempt against my life would only make my message stronger.' Nonetheless, Jakubowicz routinely looks over his shoulder when he ventures into Caracas. 'You never stop at a red light - it's too dangerous. It's part of the lifestyle. Never stop at the light, always look in the mirrors. You're constantly aware of danger, to the point where it doesn't even bother you any more. It just becomes part of your daily routine.'