October 23, 2005

TV film on sex slavery joins new activist movies

By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A young sex slave leaps from a
window. The street-wise cops who find her lifeless body see a
Russian tattoo and figure she is part of a human trafficking
ring. One gorgeous blond officer wants to investigate further
and begs to join the Feds in busting the operation.

While this may sound like a typical crime drama, "Human
Trafficking" is a fictional TV movie with a difference. It is
one of a spate of new activist films about issues ranging from
loose nuclear weapons to sexual harassment, made and marketed
to raise public awareness.

"The problem of trafficking is so upsetting and moving and
touching, and people need to know about it," said the film's
star, Mira Sorvino, who plays a Russian-born agent of the U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, commonly known as ICE.

"The way that trafficking is stopped is just ordinary
people become aware of it and they see something awry and then
call in a tip," Sorvino told Reuters. "And until people can
fathom that their next-door neighbor might have a slave in
their house, they're not going to see the signs and think to
call the police."

The two-part miniseries, which airs Monday and Tuesday on
cable network Lifetime Television, makes for rough viewing --
the head of investigations at ICE called it "heart-wrenching"
-- but shows no nudity or sexual activity and less gore than
the average cops-and-robbers program on U.S. network

It does show the mechanics, profitability and reach of
organized human trafficking, with story lines that include a
single mother from the Czech Republic, a would-be teen model
from Ukraine and an American child abducted by sex traffickers
in the Philippines.


Besides Sorvino, an Academy Award winner and spokeswoman
for Amnesty International's Stop Violence Against Women
campaign, the film stars Donald Sutherland and Robert Carlyle.
Some scenes were shot in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia,
giving the project a more cinematic look.

It lacks any salacious slant, a staple of some earlier
television movies.

"They used to take important social topics and sort of sex
them up to make people want to watch them, and I think that
this film handles it with the gravitas that it deserves,"
Sorvino said.

The film premiered last week in Washington, not at a
glittery theater but in the cavernous Ronald Reagan Building.
The guests sipping apple martinis and cosmopolitans were from
the State Department, ICE and Capitol Hill. The most glamorous
element was Sorvino, who took a break from filming in Canada to
speak to the group.

Marcy Forman, director of investigations at ICE, also
attended the premiere and acknowledged that while it could help
law enforcement by raising public awareness, this is not a
feel-good movie.

"I was sickened watching it, as one who investigates those
types of crimes," Forman said in a telephone interview. "It is
definitely taking a risk because it didn't leave much to the

"Human Trafficking" is one of several recent issue-oriented
films being marketed in innovative ways, often with
considerable star-power.


Another is "Last Best Chance," which stars actor and former
senator Fred Thompson as a U.S. president confronted with the
problem of nuclear bombs made by al Qaeda operatives. The
Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative, which works to
reduce the global threat from nuclear biological and chemical
weapons, helped produce the movie.

Promoted with private screenings and repeated airings on
HBO, "Last Best Chance" is also available to anyone with
Internet access: www.lastbestchance.org offers a free DVD of
the film. More than 70,000 have been requested so far.

The film "North Country," a Warner Brothers Pictures
release, tackles the subject of sexual harassment and features
Charlize Theron as a path-breaking ironworker. The movie's Web
site links to www.participate.net/standup, a campaign to stop
sexual harassment and domestic violence.

"Movies have the power to inspire. You have the power to
act. Participate!" reads the Web site copy.

Do these activist movies stand on their own as
entertainment? Robert Halmi Sr., the executive producer of
"Human Trafficking," had a succinct comment on this at the
Washington premiere.

"If reality TV and horror shows can entertain, this will
too," Halmi said.