Written by Eddie Lee
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Our Vision for Back To Innocence
The “Back To Innocence” film was in many ways our most challenging video. From learning about the issue to creating the concept to producing the film, there was no shortage of barriers to making “Back To Innocence” possible. Still, the journey we embarked on to create this film is one we felt convicted to follow. And through the journey, we were no less blessed to be able to share this important cause with you.
One challenge was our own ignorance to the reality of what was happening around the world. We knew that the issue of sex trafficking existed. We saw it in the movies, heard about it in our classes, and even nodded our heads in conversations about how sex trafficking was a serious issue. The reality was that we hardly even knew the extent of what is going on – and frankly, we are still only beginning to understand the true gravity of sex trafficking.
To begin, it’s important to define sex trafficking for what it is: sex trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. Sex trafficking is accomplished by means of fraud, deception, threat of or use of force, abuse of a position of vulnerability, and other forms of coercion. Worldwide, it is estimated that somewhere between 700,000 and four million women, children and men are trafficked each year, and no region is unaffected. Sustained by an estimated $9.5 billion annual revenue, sex trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world and it is the world’s second largest criminal enterprise.
Most heartbreaking was learning about the children who are forced into this industry. Approximately 80% of human trafficking victims are women and girls and up to 50% are children under the age of 18. UNICEF reports that across the world, there are over one million children entering the sex trade every year and that approximately 30 million children have lost their childhood through sexual exploitation over the past 30 years. The average age of entry for children victimized by the sex trade industry is 11 years old.
What stood out the most about this issue is the prevalence of cases here in the United States. An estimated 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each year. The number of U.S. citizens trafficked within the country is even higher, with an estimated 300,000 children in the United States at risk every year for commercial sexual exploitation. People are forced into trafficking by many methods. In some cases, they are abducted by traffickers. In other cases, false promises are made regarding job opportunities or marriages in foreign countries to entrap victims. As many as 2.8 million children run away each year in the US. Within 48 hours of hitting the streets, one-third of these children are lured or recruited into the underground world of prostitution and pornography.
Producing the Film
When we learned about the plight of these children, especially those who are forced into sex trafficking in the United States, it was clear that we needed to produce a film that would shine a light on this cause. But creating the right story wouldn’t be easy. To produce a film of this sort, we understood that there had to be a fine balance between the poignancy to capture our audience’s attention and the sensitivity to communicate our message in a tactful manner. We wanted to give a raw perspective of the sex trafficking realm, but do so with a positive message focused on curtailing this injustice.
While learning about sex trafficking, we came across two articles in particular that would ultimately inspire the story behind “Back To Innocence”: here and here. The stories of Tina and M.S. from these articles resonated with us. They came from middle class backgrounds in the United States, and became sex trafficking slaves against their will through manipulation and force. This, we decided, would be the context of our film. But rather than focus on the entirety of their stories, we’d give the audience a window into the most intimate and gruesome part of their experience.
However, we wanted the ultimate message behind the film to focus on hope rather than despair. We were drawn to the concept of these children’s innocence – innocence that is forcibly stolen from these children through a merciless system. Yet, it is innocence that they long to keep and desperately need. Surely, this “innocence” by any definition cannot be restored completely in these children through conventional means. What gives us hope, however, is the redemptive power of Jesus Christ to bring healing and hope to victims of sex trafficking. In Job 33:25-26, it is written about the healing power of God, “let their flesh be renewed like a child’s; let them be restored as in the days of their youth—then that person can pray to God and find favor with him, they will see God’s face and shout for joy; he will restore them to full well-being.” Innocence is more than a freedom from sexual exploitation; it is the dwelling in the mercy and love of a greater power who can free us from all things dark and cruel.
The film would focus on the returning to this definition of “innocence.” As such, we decided to produce the film such that the story would go backwards, starting at the fateful end where the young victim is left alone and broken at the hands of her perpetrator and ending with the image of a child still hopeful about her fate in this world. Therefore, the film is about redemption more than it is simply about suffering. We leave the story not only disgruntled for the victim, but with some semblance of optimism that things can be done to make that injustice end. Several months into the production, we also decided to add flashbacks of the girl’s earlier life into the story to reflect the victim’s attempts to hold onto what is innocent and good in her life. In the end, we hope that the story indeed holds true to what we had set out to accomplish: telling an authentic story that brings the audience into the mixed emotions of such a traumatic experience.
Another challenge that remained was orchestrating the actual shoot. How would we find the right crew to help us shoot the film? Where would we find two actresses young enough to portray this youthful innocence yet mature enough to carry such a dark topic? Where would we find an actor willing to put himself in the darkest role available in any script?
All that came to change in one day after a phone call. We found online the contact information for a pastor in Los Angeles, Sun Kim, who also happened to be a filmmaker active in advancing the cause of ending sex trafficking. On our call, I remember trying to explain the concept of the film to him. Hearing myself explain the story made the thought of the film even more unattainable: “…it would be about a 11 year girl who is raped as a victim of sex trafficking…we haven’t lined up any actors yet…no, we haven’t done anything like it…no, we do not have funding…we live in the East Coast and have full time jobs so it’ll be difficult to get out there…” Still, that would be the phone call that made everything suddenly possible.
Sun introduced us to a talented Director of Photography, Francisco Bulgarelli, and a Steadicam Operator, Javier A. Costa. He also connected us to the actor Trip Hope who would ultimately play the role of the perpetrator. Our actress would come on board shortly after. We had heard of a talented singer/songwriter and actress in Los Angeles, who had produced many videos on her YouTube channel. After reaching out to her and her family, we were blessed to find out they would be interested in playing the central role of the film. One week later, Eric, Jason and I boarded flights to go to Los Angeles. A seemingly unattainable dream was becoming reality.
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I could not fall asleep the night before the day of the shoot. The thought of shooting a film about sex trafficking had fully sunk in at that point, and various doubts and worries filled my mind. How do you direct a film with such a controversial topic like rape? What if we had not been sensitive enough to the potential backlash of making this film? How will Megan and Trip’s image as artists be affected by this film? What exactly does a Director of Photography do?
The seven-hour shoot flew by in a blur, but there were a few blessings that remain with us to this day. Megan proved to be an incredibly mature and talented actress. Despite her youth, she handled every scene with class and skill beyond her years. Her mother, who was by her side through every step of the process, was supportive of our vision and equally helpful when it came to navigating the various decisions that we had to handle throughout the process. Trip went beyond our expectations as an actor and as a mentor, both playing his role seamlessly and providing necessary advice to keep the set smooth and lighthearted. Francisco proved to be the man who made the film as powerful as it is, taking every idea we had and finding ways to inject them into the shoot no matter how difficult or unconventional they may have seemed. And with the can-do nature of Javier, they more than compensated for the inexperience we no doubt exuded. As we reflect on the shoot, there is no question that it was a series of mini-miracles that made the film possible. And for that we are incredibly grateful and blessed.
It’s important to also note here the key players who made the rest of the production process possible: the Lee family who, given their heart for sex trafficking victims, were willing to let us work with Lauren as the supportive actress in the film; Jesse Chui, of Songs for Cinema, would sign on board to help us produce the soundtrack for the film; Jennie Roh has been instrumental in both co-shooting some scenes, playing the voice of the mother, and creating our graphics; Will Kim was instrumental in shooting and editing our Behind the Scenes video; Vinay Virmani later helped provide funding to facilitate the production costs of the film. Without a doubt, there would not be a “Back To Innocence” film without them.
What People Can Do To Help
We understand as well as anyone else that one video can only do so much to curtail the powerful industry of sex trafficking. The earlier noted $9.5 billion annual revenue generated by sex trafficking related activities demonstrates that the demand for sex trafficking is significant, and unlikely to dwindle on its own. Yet there are those who take the enormity of this problem as a pass to do nothing at all. We produced this film with the belief that there is power in stories, and where there is conviction to speak out against injustice there is also the possibility for great things to happen. We believe the start of the end of sex trafficking begins with knowledge about the facts that we laid out in this post. If more people saw the darkness that existed around sex trafficking not only around the world, but also in our own country and in our own society, the sex trafficking industry would not flourish as it does today.
One way to start educating others is sharing this short film. By watching this film, you have been given an opportunity to be a voice in your community. Use it. When you share this film with others, let it be a tool to help empower them: hold meetings, organize events, and initiate simple conversations around this issue. Your voice matters in helping to combat this injustice.
Additionally, become a donor to directly help non-profit organizations combat sex trafficking. Through this film, we are partnering with an organization called Odanadi to help them continue to help victims in need. To learn more about their organization or to make a donation to them, please go to www.odanadi.org. There are other organizations we included below that we believe are making enormous strides to help those in need. The sex industry is powered by a vast source of funding, but when a grassroots network of individuals choose to act by supporting these important organizations, the possibilities are endless.
Finally, stay connected to the Jubilee Project. This is just the beginning of our efforts to shine a bright light on this darkness. We believe that films play a powerful role in combating this issue. To produce these films, we’ll need your continual support and prayers. To follow us, you can:
– subscribe to the Jubilee Project: www.youtube.com/jubileeproject
– follow us: www.facebook.com/jubileeproject
– tweet us: @jubileeproject
– tumblr us: jubileeproject.tumblr.com
– follow our blog and sign up for our listserv: www.jubileeproject.org
– support us: www.jubileeproject.org/support-us
Help provide hope to those forced into this unfathomable darkness. Thank you for being a light and a voice in ending sex trafficking.
Other resources, organizations, and links where you can go to learn more about sex trafficking:
ECPAT, or End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes – a global network dedicated to eliminating commercial sexual exploitation of children
International Justice Mission – study of injustices witnessed by overseas missionaries and relief and development workers
Terrify No More: Young Girls Held Captive and the Daring Undercover Operation to Win Their Freedom by Gary A. Haugen and Gregg Hunter
World Vision – driven by faith and in partnership with people, World Vision seeks to enable the world’s children to realize their God-given potential by tackling the root causes of poverty
Free the Slaves: 202-638-1865 – a non-profit organization working to end slavery worldwide