Sometimes my thoughts are in a jumble until I can sort out my angst, ideas, frustrations, hopes, and fears in written form – be it a blog post, and article, or a journal entry. This is one of those times. I am sitting here at my computer with a tangled mess of thoughts, hoping that as I type they will take on more clarity and meaning.
I have often said that making a documentary is like writing a thesis in 3D. Not only does the information have to be accurate, but the stories must be compelling, the audio must be perfect, and the visuals must be powerful or at least representative of what we are trying to address. The challenges we face are significant. Here are some of those challenges that we face on a daily basis.
First of all, we hold a strong conviction that we are not to film the women who are either in the red light windows or walking the streets in search of customers. We try to keep any shots in these areas very general. Most of these women are already being exploited, and the last thing we want to do is exploit them further by exposing them on film to an international audience. One of our friends who works with prostituted women said that she has recognized some of the women that she knows in other films, and felt unsettled about that.
The question is, how do you expose the true nature of the sex trade and the horrific state of sex trafficking victims in a way that is truthful and real, without being exploitative? One woman who thought we were filming her came up to our car and hit the window, and understandably so. It is moments like this that remind us that we are dealing with the lives of human beings, not just a “cause” or an “issue” that is composed of faceless statistics.
Anyone who has made a film will tell you that sometimes people are timid on camera and really open up when it turns off. This has happened several times. I must resist the urge to get frustrated when this happens, and instead use that time as an opportunity to learn more so that we can add depth to our film in other creative ways. Often the people we meet en route, when our camera is safely packed away, have really insightful things to say, and in those moments I wish I had a memory of a detective. I have learned to carry a pen at all times, arriving back at our base with scribbled bits of sentences on napkins that I hope to piece together in an effort to re-create the conversation.
Then there is building trust. We are only in each country for a few days or a week, not giving us very much time to meet people who can direct us to further connections once they have established a relationship with us. Since our subject matter deals with organized crime, building trust with those on the front lines, as well as victims, is crucial.
The goal of victims is to stay alive, to stay safe, to keep a low profile. Our goal is to find stories that will make a compelling film, with the hopes of changing how people think about prostitution. These two goals seldom mix, even though we all want sexual exploitation to end. A man we spoke with today said that many victims cannot even build coherent sentences due to the trauma they have experienced, let alone sit in front of a camera and recount their stories to a stranger.
Some documentaries get the dirt on people, fling it in their faces, and trample on those who oppose their ideology or the point they are trying to make. Our hope is that we treat everyone we come across with dignity and respect, even those who disagree with us. Any film that deals with clandestine or controversial matter must address and expose truth and lies, and this will no doubt ruffle feathers. But as a human being I am called to treat all others as human beings. As someone who does not want to offend anyone (in true Canadian style!), making a film about a sensitive and explosive topic is difficult. We must be bold but respectful, truthful but compassionate, aggressive but discerning.
Though I have witnessed and learned much about income inequality, poverty, hopelessness, and abuse all around the world before this trip, I have not felt the weight of human depravity and desperation until now. Not like this. I must discard the expectation that our documentary will be the miracle that makes exploitation ground to a halt. It is a piece of the solution, yes, but a superhero mentality is not healthy or helpful to anyone. I must remind myself that our responsibility is to do the best with what we have. That’s it.
We have had the opportunity to do a few normal tourist things, like taking a city tour in Berlin and gazing and the beautiful architecture of Prague. These moments allow me to remember that though the world is so full of pain, it is also full of gorgeous sunsets, friendly locals willing to give directions, delicious pastries, used book stores, beautiful languages, new friends, old friends, and bright smiles.
Ah…I knew I just had to write that all out. Now I can go to bed!