Mimi Chakarova's documentary The Price of Sex: An Investigation of Sex Trafficking looks into the trafficking of women and girls that gradually developed following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the break up of the Soviet Union. In the aftermath of these events, much of the East flooded the West leaving many of those without the resources to leave, in dire straits. She says that life in Moldova during communism kept them poor but at least they felt safe. We see her in old home movies as a toddler playing outside in her hometown. Ms. Chakarova was able to get out while she was still very young. In the film Ms. Chakarova returns to her place of birth in the present day and it is starkly different from the warm and playful home movie clips. Abandon businesses and houses line streets with little foot traffic around town. Jobs are scarce and many resort to crime. Here girls trust strangers because the promise of something better is worth the risk. It has become a haven for trafficking recruiters. I've worked periodically on a trafficking documentary over the last several years and although the feature I work on isn't in the same part of the world, the story is very similar. There are so many players in the game of trafficking that it is an enormous industry with many divisions, which is part of what makes is seemingly impossible to stop. But almost always the root culprit is poverty. Poverty creates little choices and in turn fosters desperation.
As the post panel talked about Ms. Chakarova's journey in making The Price of Sex, discussion inevitably returned to how complicated trafficking is. The varying shades of grey as one panelist described. That is a challenging aspect in bringing a documentary on human trafficking to the screen. It's a complex story to weave clearly and most struggle for access into this world in order to give it something beyond a television exposé. The Price of Sex offers a deeper picture. One that individualizes those that are trafficked as well as clarifies how trafficking happens, flourishes and also how women can get re-trafficked.
Upon introducing The Price of Sex at this years Human Rights Watch Film Festival (June 16th through 25th at the Film Society of Lincoln Center), Ms. Chakarova tells the audience that her film is a hard story but it's not a hopeless one. Ms. Chakarova's statement is believable because she is the thread that holds the film together, she acts as our guide, taking us from Moldova where she talks to survivors of trafficking and organizations like La Strada that help women who call in on the hotline number, to the trafficking destinations such as Turkey, Greece and Dubai. She risks her own safety in order to wade through the shades of grey and make a clear and compelling narrative with her own voice. This works because the women she talks to could have been her. The film is both a political and personal documentary.
She stayed for a Q&A following the almost sold out afternoon screening. She was joined by Robert Rosenthal head of the Center for Investigative Reporting was a collaborator and resource for Ms. Chakarova's film. Although there isn't an obvious hopeful conclusion to The Price of Sex, there is the awareness raising aspect. Although I have been working on a trafficking project for a while now and have become familiar with ways in which girls and young women are trafficked, each region's trafficking issue is a history lesson and each individual story is an emotional eye opener. The deconstruction of trafficking, understanding what it is and how it works and where it comes from is a starting point.
The Price of Sex is shot beautifully and includes many of Ms. Chakarova's still images (she is a photojournalist). Stephanie Challberg did a beautiful job of editing by choosing moody imagery that brought rich subtext to atrocities that can't and shouldn't be shown.
To find out how to get involved or to see a calendar for future screenings, go to priceofsex.org.