Below first-time feature filmmaker Larysa Kondracki shares an exclusive scene from her conspiracy thriller “The Whistleblower,” starring Rachel Weisz, Vanessa Redgrave, David Strathairn and Monica Bellucci. The film opens in limited release this Friday, August 5 through Samuel Goldwyn Films.
“The Whistleblower” is the story of Kathryn Bolkovac, an American police officer who joined the UN as a peacekeeper in Bosnia. While there, she discovered that peacekeepers were complicit in sex-trafficking. She took every measure to report this to proper authorities, but evidence started to disappear, she was threatened and she felt her life was in danger. Let’s just say that it became very clear that her efforts were not appreciated.
When you put together the words Bosnia, peacekeepers and sex-trafficking, people assume it’s going to be either “educational” or “important”, in other words: medicinal. But the truth is, Kathy’s story was incredible. It brought to mind my favorite political thrillers, and I felt it lent itself to that kind of telling. It was a complex maze of a story that riveted me all the more because it had really happened. Eilis Kirwan (who wrote the script with me) and I spent two years in Eastern Europe researching and talking to everyone we could about Kathy, peace keeping, private contractors, the situation in Sarajevo after the war, the experiences of trafficking survivors… Each day, you would find something more shocking than the next. What we thought we knew about sex trafficking was nonsense, and when you really look at why these girls are in demand, you’re stunned. The challenge became how to make something so shocking as to be stranger than fiction grounded, yet compelling and suspenseful.
The scene is not going to play as well out of context, but essentially Kathryn (Rachel Weisz) has given her word to Irka (Rayisa Kondracki) that she can protect her if she testifies against her trafficker. Things don’t go according to plan…
What I like about this scene is that it really showcases the challenge of the film: how to make something grounded, yet compelling and suspenseful. The answer is the actors.
Yes, I didn’t have the money to shoot big-budget chase scenes, but in a case like this, you really don’t need it. The action, the tension is between the characters. Trade in whatever you can to give your actors the time to work.
We only had a few hours to shoot this sequence, so it was literally minutes in between takes. And this was a physically and mentally exhausting scene. There’s a whole treatise to be written about how amazing Rachel Weisz is, and this is just one example. Despite the extraordinary nature of Kathy’s situation, Rachel found the universality of Kathy’s experience and made her someone we can relate to. And that’s what gives the film its hook. It’s a thriller where you’re asking: what would I do? Same with this scene. It’s not really about the chase, it’s about what do you say to this girl when you get her. Is it possible to regain her trust? It’s the plainness of the goal that makes this moment grounded. The rest of it – the extremely heavy costumes, the nearly running the actress over with the car, the no stand-ins so you have to run again and again for 2 hours – is circumstance. And I was blessed to have actors who trust in the project enough to put that relentless effort into it.
The practicality of shooting the scene ends up mimicking the overall theme of the film. It’s all about trust: the victim’s trust in Kathy, Kathy’s trust in her colleagues, our trust in governments, the United Nations and other global institutions. That’s what this film is asking. Do we know the people we are trusting?