- THE INNOCENT
- Starring: Rakel Lenora Flottum, Sam Ashraf
- Directed by: Eskil Vogt
- Rating: unrated
- Running Time: 1 hr 57 mins
- IFC Films
Christopher Bessette is the writer and director of the film “Trade of Innocents”. The film recently played in the Toronto Cornerstone International Film Festival and we were awarded “Best Feature”. The film was released limited in theaters early this Fall and will be released on DVD on December 11, 2012. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Christopher about the film, what people can do to help in real life about human trafficking and also what he had plans next.
Mike Gencarelli: You have not has a simple career as filmmaker ranging from places like Amazon and the jungles of Central America, Russia, South East Asia, throughout Europe, across Canada and most of the United States; what do you enjoy most about working in so many different situations?
Christopher Bessette: I am really grateful for the places my career has taken me. You learn to be sensitive to cultural differences and become the observer in the nuance of communication… primarily because you don’t speak the language, so you learn to watch their physical mannerism and reactions. This has been invaluable for me as a director.
MG: Tell us about how you were inspired to write and direct “Trade of Innocents”?
CB: Interesting how coffee shop conversations can ultimately lead you to the other side of the world. In 2008 I was in a coffee shop with a friend and she shared with me her missions work with orphans in Cambodia. She told me about the plight of the people and the intense suffering they’ve endured. My heart was broken and I immediately thought of two of my characters that are in Trade of Innocents. Two months later I get a surprise phone call from a broadcaster that I had worked with 17 years earlier and they asked me to help them tell a story about an organization that rescues children from the sex trade in CAMBODIA! I already had a story that I wanted to tell, so the trip would be dual purpose, I’d do the work for the broadcaster and I’d location scout and research for my movie. So now I’m in country and I am seeing things happen all around me. When your readers see the movie and the “Puppy Love” scene in the bar of the hotel; that really happened. I chased down a perpetrator, following an investigators lead, exactly like the scene in the movie. People might say, “come on” but if they could feel an ounce of pain my soul suffered when the pedophile was getting away with the little girl, they’d understand why I wept when we recreated that scene for Trade of Innocents… even as gut wrenching as that was, still it wasn’t the impetus. On that same trip I found myself in the village of Svay Pok, 11 KM outside of Phnom Penh in a building called Rahab’s House. If you’ve seen the Dateline report, this is the building that was a notorious brothel. It is now used used as a community center, day care, medical clinic, church etc. I went upstairs to the second floor, the room was sterilized freshly painted and void of furniture. Rahab’s House administrator told me that the room upstairs, “The Virgin Room or the Pink Room” was the room brothel owners held children as young as 5, 6 years old for the pedophiles. I looked out of the bared window of that room to the dirt streets below and saw children playing. I wondered if a little girl looked through this same window wondering why she couldn’t be out there with her friends. I found myself whispering the words, “Oh God, help me tell her story, I have to do something, help me tell her story.” Needless to say I came home with the story burning in my heart.
MG: How was it working with such an amazing cast like Dermot Mulroney, Mira Sorvino, John Billingsley and Trieu Tran
CB: Absolutely brilliant. Each actor has a different approach. My job is to serve each one so we communicate effectively and in-turn they serve the story, and the story serves the audience. Here’s where the multi-culture experience comes in handy, I watch their unspoken communication actions and reactions and that gives me clues on how to effectively communicate with each of them. Trieu Tran and I were in-sync from the beginning, I would say “a couple of words” to Trieu and he’d be like, “gotcha” and boom it would be outta the park! All of these people are incredible professionals and my level of work with them is very subtle, whereas with other actors in the same piece, it is a lot more intense. The end result is you’re looking for balance.
MG: Where you aware of Mira’s position on the topic of human trafficking before casting?
CB: She was a goldmine find. I wasn’t personally aware of it but when her name came to the table, everybody on the producing team started buzzing about her passion with the issue. To have an actress that is extremely skilled and passionate about the issue is such a huge blessing.
MG: How does “Trade of Innocents” compare from your previous films?
CB: It is ambitious, it carries poetic imagery of subtext, that for the viewer looking for it, will find. I won’t spoil all of it by telling you, but the theme of redemption runs throughout… in each of the characters, even in colors. The color red for example is typically associated with the red light district or a lady of the night, but in our film you’ll find it played in all of the positive ways, the red krama (scarf) the red drapes in Princess Willow Leafs palace, the Crimson Sun Bird that leads Amy into shanty town etc.
MG: Do you think that this film will create awareness for this “epidemic” of a situation?
CB: One film won’t be the answer, people will. The film will entertain but I hope that somewhere along the journey the viewers realize, “This is really going on!” There is a collective voice that is silent for the most part crying – that little girl looking through the bars of a window, hoping that a modern day abolitionist will stand up and say, “Enough, this is wrong.” I hope it stirs those people that will make a difference.
MG: What do you have planned to follow-up this film?
CB: From real life drama / thriller in “Trade of Innocents” to real life drama in a supernatural thriller: imagine if I told you “The 6th Sense” was real. True Story – A 12 year old boy wakes from a coma and he is unable to speak but he can write. He writes two letters, to two families, street addresses it to their house and everything… but he’s never met them before. The contents of the letters contain exact details and names of their deceased children he’s met on the ‘other side.‘ They have a message for their parents and the world.
In the back streets of a tourist town in present-day Southeast Asia, we find a filthy cinder block room; a bed with soiled sheets; a little girl waits for the next man. Alex (Dermot Mulroney), a human trafficking investigator, plays the role of her next customer as he negotiates with the pimp for the use of the child. Claire (Mira Sorvino), Alex’s wife, is caught up in the flow of her new life in Southeast Asia and her role as a volunteer in an aftercare shelter for rescued girls where lives of local neighborhood girl’s freedoms and dignity are threatened. Parallel story lines intertwine and unfold twists against the backdrop of the dangerous human trafficking world, in a story of struggle, life, hope and redemption in the “Trade of Innocents”.
Click here to read our review of “Trade of Innocents”
The topic in this film is very important and we had a chance to chat with various members of the cast including Dermot Mulroney, John Billingsley and Mira Sorvino and the film’s director Christopher Bessette. Hope you enjoy these and be sure to check out this great movie.
Mira Sorvino is well known for her Academy Award winning performance in “Mighty Aphrodite”, as well as her role as Romy White in “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion”. In her new film “Trade of Innocents”, it takes a more serious look into the epidemic of human trafficking. She co-stars in the film with Dermot Mulroney and John Billinsgley. She is also working again with Dermot Mulroney next year for “Space Warriors”. Mira really took out some time to chat about her role and her stand on the topic in the film and what people can do in order to get involved.
Mike Gencarelli: “Trade of Innocents” is such an intense film; especially your role. How did you prepare for Claire Becker?
Mira Sorvino: I have met many survivors of human trafficking through my volunteer work. I am UNODC Goodwill Ambassador to combat human trafficking. So I meet victims all the time, so I took those experiences since I am always deeply moved. You get confronted it with the horror of what people are put through from others for the love of a buck and just realize the first time I you were exposed to that. The character really understands human trafficking, or slavery as Obama rightly put recently, for the first time. There is nothing like meeting a survivor of human trafficking and hearing their stories. There is just nothing like it. You are moved by their incredible strength and ability to not only come back to live and thrive but to help others. They are very optimistic people. So there is that. Then there is the fact that I am also a mother myself. In the story, our characters are bereaved parents and that were not a stretch to imagine but obviously I would never want to go there. I love my own children so much.
MG: How did this role come about for you? Was it due to your work against human trafficking?
MS: I was offered the role. I am not sure if they were aware how involved I was with this. I remember having a conversation with the director, Christopher Bessette, and he told me about modern day slavery and I told him what I do. Then I think we realized that we had far more in common than we thought and then worked together to make the story even deeper. What I loved about the film is that it highlights a solution both on the law enforcement side, with the International Justice Mission and then there are volunteer facilities. These are such an important part about fighting slavery, since you can’t just arrest people.
MG: Do you feel that film will create awareness against this?
MS: That is our hope. We are showing it to a lot of political people. It is really helping to drive to the message and outreach at child sexual exploitation. The sad this is that it is such a huge problem in our own country. The film is about a foreign situation but honestly we have a big, if not, bigger issue of child trafficking here in the US as in anywhere else. John Billingsley plays a pedophile in the film and goes to Cambodia to by children. If he is caught there, our US Federal laws will get him and he might get 25 years and put on permanent sex offender registry. If someone like him is caught in America, in most cases he will be let go at the scene and not even brought into the police station. The child will be brought in and charged with the crime of prostitution. That is really true. Nothing will happen to the “John” in the US as long as he has paid for it. If your neighborhood pedophile has sex with a kid in his basement and doesn’t pay he is going to get the full ride of punishment. That is the outrage in our country.
MG: Let’s talks about John’s role in the film, it was very well done and extremely disturbing.
MS: It was incredibly disturbing. He played it in a very self-justified way. That is what great actors have to do; they have to justify the behavior of the character. He wasn’t apologetic for it in any means.
MG: Tell us filming on location in Bangkok, Thailand?
MS: That was an eye-opener for us as well. While I was there I worked with the local UNODC office for Southeast Asia. They gave me a true education on the situation there in terms of human trafficking. I also worked with some local NGA’s one of which was called Nightlight. One of the women there took me into the Bangkok red light district late at night. She goes on this nightly walk-about with her volunteer staff. They try and find under-age girls working in the sex bars. It was very crazy and not something that an ordinary American female will ever experience. It is not something you would see. It is such much about of their culture there and a lot of their economy is based on sex tourism.
MG: What can people do if they want to get involved?
MS: I have three recommendations for you. First is EPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking). This is global network organizations that span the entire world. You can go to the website for your country and find out how to get involved. Then, there is a group called Polaris Project. This project is absolutely amazing. They run the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, which is a 24/7 hotline that has led to thousands identification and rescues of trafficked people in the US than law enforcement has. Also on their website, you can see how you state rates in terms of human trafficking. Some states are good but some have no responses. You can see how to put pressure on your legislators to pass these new laws. Lastly if you just have money and don’t have time you can donated to the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victim of Human-Trafficking, it is one of the only fund that grants money to NGO’s and people around the world to help people. That is a very big deal and even with a small amount of money. It all adds up and is very important.
Dermot Mulroney is known best for his role in “My Best Friend’s Wedding”. He also tore up TV in Fox’s “New Girl”. Dermot is taking on a very serious role in “Trade of Innocents”, which deals with child sex trading. Media Mikes had the chance to chat with Dermot on this amazing role and how he prepared for the role.
Mike Gencarelli: What drew you to work on “Trade of Innocents”?
Dermot Mulroney: It is interesting, I got with an offer on the role. I read the script and it was really the first time I ever encountered the issue of human trafficking or child sex slavery. Just reading the script was real eye-opener for me and that is what really intrigued me the most initially.
MG: Tell us about working with Mira Sorvino and John Billingsley?
What are the chances that you can work with an actress like Mira Sorvino, who already made such a huge different in her own life working through the United Nations and other organizations. So it was just great. John’s performances will really rattle you. That performances was really incredible in every way. Boy, what a challenge it would be to be asked to play a role like that. I really respect what he was able to do.
MG: The film’s content is quite intense dealing with sex slave trades of young children, how did you prepare for a role like this?
Well, I did a couple of things. After reading the script, I went online and started researching the issue. The first thing I learned how many people are affected by this. I mean on both sides of the issue as well. Since I am looking at it from the people that are trying to stop this problem. You learn numbers and fact but also learn how about many people are trying to help. I was impressed with the amount of resources that are out there. The group and associations are so admirable and plenty of them, as it turns out.
MG: Due to the content due to find that this is harder to portray?
The heart of the movie is really the relationship between this family. The couple had done through losing their own child. That part I have done before and I could really hook into that. So for me the unique part was the setting and the issue around that this simple family story drama works around.
MG: Tell us about filming on location for this project?
Yes, it was shot in Bangkok. I had never been to Asia, which was an eye-opener as well. Not shocking in any way just never been in a city quite like that. The people and the crew were incredible to work with. We worked through some really grueling conditions, as you see in the movie. Then you have to throw in another hundred people going through that heat and those conditions with me. A lot of people really put their heart and soul into making this movie. Bill Bolthouse, executive producer, and his family really this is a passing for them that comes to fruition this way. You don’t see it often that individuals can make such a visible difference.
MG: Where/when can people get a chance to see this film?
It is being released in New York on October 5, 2012 and then expanding each week after that in additional theaters. People are really coming from all different angles for the film like government, religious organizations, NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) like charities from all over the world. I think people will really take notice. It will also be available on Digital, DVD and VOD
on December 11, 2012.
MG: You go from an intense role like this to a hysterical role in TV’s “New Girl”; how do you compare?
[laughs] That is so interesting, I never thought about those roles being so different. I have always jumped around and done whatever I have been asked to do. Or at least tried, I am still trying to do it right out here…working hard. I had not idea what was coming with that role. It was literally coming out of their mouths while they were shooting the episodes. Then sent me a few episodes and said you “are you in or out”? They hadn’t cooked up yet where my character was going. So they just rolled with it and revealed the character to me on that fun level. Not to mention working with that wonderful cast…that was a funny room of people man!
John Billingsley is known best for his role of Doctor Phlox on “Star Trek: Enterprise”. He also co-stars in the recent “Trade of Innocents”, playing the sleazy Malcolm Eddery. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with John about his various roles and what has been his most rewarding role.
Mike Gencarelli: Tell us how you got involved with the film “Trade of Innocents”
John Billingsley: It was a pretty standard audition process. The scene I did was one that ended up not making it into the final cut of the film. When we were working on it I had a strange suspicion that the scene might not make it in to the film. After meeting with the directed I heard back about a month later that I had gotten the part.
MG: How did you prepare to play such a sleazy guy, Malcolm Eddery?
JB: I have played more than my share of creeps, child molesters and psychotics through the years. I hate to say it wasn’t an extraordinary stretch for me to play this role. Ultimately anytime you are playing a character that is bent you really aren’t doing anything much other than saying what their particular obsession or interest is. Everyone has an obsessive nature so all you have to do is stretch the envelope a little bit.
MG: The film was shot on location, tell us about your experience?
JB: That was great! I had never been to Bangkok before. It was a fascinating city that has this strange blend of first worldism and third worldism. There were high rise buildings mixed in with small run downhouses. My role gave me quite a bit of down time. I would generally shoot a day then have some time off. I had a chance to explore the entire city. I am a big fan of cities and getting to see how they work. They have a really interesting transportation system there that is also pretty cheap.
MG: How can you reflect looking back on your experience playing Doctor Phlox on “Star Trek: Enterprise” and how it compares to your following work?
JB: My role in “Star Trek” is probably the closest role I have had to myself. He was an even keeled person with a fair amount of philosophical attachment. Except for the rubber head in many respect that role was probably the most comfortable I have ever been. After playing that role for 4 years I wasn’t too bereft when it went off the air.
MG: How was it returning to “True Blood” this season as the Coroner?
JB: Surprising! The role was never particularly dimensional in any way but I did like the paycheck. They were nice people to work for. My character disappeared sometime in the 3rd season so I was pleasantly surprised when they contacted me. I was a little puzzled in a way as they brought me back but didn’t necessarily use me. I have a feeling that there may have been a back story there. I kind of thought my character was going to be the guy behind the Obama killings. When I went in for the first wardrobe fitting they wanted to fit me for camouflage gear. I asked them what it was about and they told me I was going to be involved with a terrorist group later in the year. Somewhere along the line they must have changed their mind. I was a little disappointed. I did get a death scene though.
MG: Looking at your career to date, what would you say has been your most rewarding role?
JB: The most fun/challenging role was probably one that no one ever saw. I did a play called “The Seagull” in Seattle which was great. Movie wise I did a film with Denzel Washington called “Out of Time” which was also great. I liked being on “The Nine” as well. The lady who played my wife on that show is actually my wife. Each thing you do offers its own particular reward. In the end I have to pick “Star Trek” as it lasted the longest. That role changed my life.
Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars
“Trade of Innocents” is a rare gem that will probably not be seen by many but it really deserves mainstream shot. The film contains some really amazing performances from Dermot Mulroney, Mira Sorvino and John Billingsley. Billingsley gives one his most intense and impressive performances to date. The film is very well shot and will directed by Christopher Bessette. The film is action packed and very suspenseful, as well as very dramatic. The content is a very difficult topic, dealing with human trafficking with young children but it really delivers from beginning to end. The running time tops just 90 minutes and I think that works in advantage for this film gives it just enough time to tell its story. Do not miss out on this film, it is one of 2012’s hidden gem and award worthy performances.
The film follows Alex Becker (Mulroney) and Claire Becker (Sorvino) who are both dealing with the loss of their young daughter. Alex is working in Southeast Asia in order to infiltrate the human trafficking and plays to expose the people behind it. Malcolm Eddery (Billingsley) finds himself as the main target, since he is looking for young girls and has the money to spend. As the couple find themselves being pulled together deeper and deeper into the lives of local girls, who lives are affected and threatened due to sex slave drives. With parallels stories and throughout twists and turns “Trade of Innocents”, takes us through the dangerous world of human trafficking.
Since the film is based on true events, the inspiration came from a personal experience of the director, Christopher Bessette, and the producers Bill and Laurie Bolthouse experiences during their trips to Phnom Penh. This is brutally raw and unsettling but also very true and needs to be addressed. If this film makes you upset and uncomfortable, then I feel that it is doing its job well. Monterey Media is a notable distributor this year releasing a lot of great films, also like Famke Jannsen’s “Bringing Up Bobby”. I know this is just a film but I hope that it will bring the public’s notice to become more aware of the issue and work to fight human trafficking.