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Human Rights Watch Int. Film Fest: The Price of Sex – directed by Mimi Chakarova

Human Rights Watch Int. Film Fest: The Price of Sex - directed by Mimi Chakarova

The Price of Sex is one of those films that haunt you. I watched it over a week ago and I still cannot get it out of my mind. The film painstakingly depicts the brutal reality of how easily women and girls are trafficked all across the world. This film in particular focuses on girls from Eastern Europe. It shows how lives are devastated, how women are brutalized and battered and dumped when they are finished with. It shows the decimation of families and towns. And it shows the shattering of hopes and dreams for the future. The trafficking of women and girls is one of the most important human rights issues of our time. If this continues to go unchecked (and condoned by governments) we will lose generations of women all across the world to this abomination.

The film plays today, Saturday and tomorrow, Sunday in NYC at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in NYC. Tickets here.

Director Mimi Chakarova answered some questions by email about her film.

Women and Hollywood: Can you tell us how you came up with the title?

Mimi Chakarova: I wanted a title that isn’t one dimensional because the stories of the women in the film are complex and layered. “The Price of Sex” is a title that, in my opinion, gets your attention but also pushes you to think of what it means for women to be exploited as a commodity – the depth of the physical and psychological price they pay for being sold as slaves.

WaH: This film is very hard to watch because it seems hopeless and everyone is conspiring about these women. How did you persevere for so long, and how do you get people to really understand how big a problem this is?

MC: I know that “The Price of Sex” is a heavy film but I disagree about it being hopeless. The sheer presence of the young women who survived, their courageous act of breaking the silence of shame by speaking on camera about their lives, should give viewers a deeper appreciation of their resilience. My perseverance is nothing compared to what they’ve endured. I always thought that my job is to provide an outlet for what they had to say and to do my best to show people how corruption, poverty, a slanted justice system and ongoing complacency drive the sex slavery market. “The Price of Sex” is my hope of changing a system that destroys women. I hope others can follow in my footsteps. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed by the United Nations General Assembly after World War II. More than sixty years later we are witnessing the sale of human beings and the degradation of women’s bodies and minds. It is absolutely unacceptable to stand by and pretend that this doesn’t effect us all.

WaH: This film is another example of how poorly treated women and girls are. If a woman could be sold for the price of a gun or drugs how will we ever get people to treat women as equal citizens?

MC: We start at the very core of it all. The way we bring up our children — how we define “men” and “women.” We start by taking responsibility as witnesses, by believing in the need to change perceptions and elevate the public’s consciousness. And the first step is through information that is credible and lays out, in an accessible way, how the system of trafficking works. This is the very first step, in my opinion. The second step is a social movement that redefines how we treat one another and respects the human rights of women and children.

WaH: When you interviewed the high school girls they seemed to know that trafficking happens but were a bit in denial that it could happen to them. How can girls be educated to know the signs so that they won’t be lured into false promises?

MC: Our hope is to show “The Price of Sex” in schools throughout the villages and towns of Eastern Europe. We would like to partner with NGOs in the region that will use “The Price of Sex” as a prevention tool. But there is a bigger issue at work. As long as the dire economic conditions in developing countries continue to force young women to pack up and leave everything they know, no documentary films or public awareness campaigns will be fully effective. We have to ask ourselves, what’s the alternative that these girls have when there are no jobs or opportunities for them? The level of desperation clouds their judgment and pushes them to take irreversible risks.

WaH: One of the hardest parts of the movie is to realize that some women choose to stay in the sex industry because that is the better choice for them. Do you agree?

MC: Some women stay because they have nothing to return to. Some stay because of shame. Some, because they’re broken and don’t see themselves capable of leading normal lives. Many stay because they don’t want to die. The reasons vary depending on each woman, where she was sold and how she escaped her captors.

WaH: Do you have any thoughts on people who willingly choose to go into the sex industry and what is your position on legalizing prostitution.

MC: I have plenty of thoughts about this but I would rather stay focused on what “The Price of Sex” is about. It is NOT about women who make a choice to sell sex. It’s about slavery and a complete break down of the human spirit.

WaH: Human trafficking seems to be destroying a generation of women. How can this be stopped?

MC: I wish I could be optimistic and say that we can eradicate it. I don’t think we can completely stop human trafficking but I absolutely do believe that we can significantly reduce the numbers. The first step is informing people and starting a discourse that can influence behavior change. The second is providing opportunities for women — through education and work — so they don’t have to leave their communities and risk being trafficked. The third, and by far the least talked about, is reducing the demand by educating young men about the social and devastating consequences of purchased sex.

WaH: What do you want people to get out of the film?

MC: I would like them to learn, think, and take action. I encourage them to see the film and visit – don’t type in or else you will get a porn site) to find out more about how each one of us can do our part.

WaH: Did making this film change you?

MC: Very much so. I’ve worked and thought about sex trafficking for eight years. It’s impossible for it not to change you. But I also think that the making of the film was my own personal protest against hypocritical and corrupt systems that exploit the most vulnerable. And it’s no longer my own burden to carry around. I am sharing it with others and urging them to join me by doing the same. I have the feeling that a number of people who watch “The Price of Sex” will be changed as well. I don’t think that this is a film that will leave your mind an hour or two after you’ve seen it. It should linger for days, and hopefully even longer.

WaH: What was the hardest part of making this film?

MC: The hardest part… Change comes too slow.

WaH: What advice do you have for other female filmmakers.

MC: Stay focused, respect the importance of your work and be kind and generous to other women, especially young, aspiring artists and storytellers.

See this film if you can.

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