Sisters For Sale

Posted March 03

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Posted November 20

Next week, our feature documentary, 'Sisters For Sale', will premiere at the Human Rights Film Festival of Naples, in Italy. 

'Sisters For Sale' will serve two purposes: to raise awareness of the global human trafficking crisis, and to raise much-needed funds for organisations fighting human trafficking in Vietnam and around the world. 

During production of 'Sisters For Sale', I've had the honour of working with both Michael Brosowski and Georges Blanchard, who have each founded an excellent anti-trafficking organisation in Vietnam. 

I was liaising closely with Michael over a period of twelve months as I endeavoured to locate my kidnapped friends May and Pang in China, to arrange their return home, and to convict their traffickers. 

Michael continually impressed me with his knowledge and understanding of the complex issues and situations we encountered, and his evident passion for the cause. 

Michael's organisation, 'Blue Dragon Children's Foundation', has been operating in Hanoi since 2003. Amongst their long list of incredible achievements is rescuing hundreds of human trafficking victims in Vietnam and China. 

Georges has been working with street children and human trafficking victims since 1992. His organisation, 'Alliance Anti-Trafic', was the first anti-trafficking organisation in Vietnam. 

I was based in northern Vietnam, and Georges is based in Ho Chi Minh City, in the far south. While we've had less opportunity to work together, we've now been in contact for almost five years, and I've always been impressed by Georges fanatical dedication to fighting human trafficking. 

In many ways, Georges reminds me of myself - an idealist and an underdog who doesn't always have access to the staff and funding he needs, and has often forged ahead on pure determination because he understands how life-changing this work is. 

I have a huge amount of respect for what Michael and Georges have been able to achieve - but I respect them for another reason, too, which may be more difficult for others to appreciate. 

Fighting human trafficking is extremely difficult work. The "trafficking" part is shocking - but the "human" part is the hardest of all. 

The victims of human trafficking number in the tens of millions - and every single one of them is a real person, with a name, a face, and a family. So are their traffickers. 

When you're working with human trafficking, you meet those people, and hear their stories constantly. Sometimes it all gets a little too real. 

There are people who have worked on 'The Human, Earth Project' - including some who have been involved only briefly - who have simply been overwhelmed by it all. 

Earlier this year, I received a message from one of the translators working on the Vietnamese version of 'Sisters For Sale'. She wanted to know if everything that happened in the story was true. When I told her it was, she apologised, and said she needed to take some time out. 

"I don't know what to believe in anymore," she wrote. "Life seems to be not beautiful as I've thought."

I know the feeling. I'm sure Michael and Georges know it, too - and yet, year after year, they keep on fighting. It's difficult to imagine the inner strength and resolve that requires. 

Earlier this year, I was approached by one of the world's five major publishing houses, who was interested in a potential adaptation of 'Sisters For Sale' as a book. 

It was an exciting moment. 'Sisters For Sale' is a phenomenal story, and most of it has never been told - not on my blog, not in the documentary, not even to my friends or family. There are still plenty of surprises, even for those of you who have been following this project from the very beginning. 

It's a story that can make a huge difference against the global human trafficking crisis. More than that, becoming a published author has been a dream of mine since I was a child. 

That was nine months ago, and I could have finished the manuscript by now - but I haven't. In fact, there have been some months I've barely touched it at all. 

Why not? 

Because this story covers the most difficult period in my life. I spent a year as close as you can get to human trafficking without actually being a victim or a trafficker. 

I made decisions that forever altered people's lives, and there are times that those lives were in very real danger - including my own. I'm still living with the results of those decisions. While none of us were hurt physically, each of us was affected in other ways. 

Writing the book means revisiting that time in painstaking detail. For other people, it will be a fantastic story - for me, it's my life. 

For every feel-good success story about human trafficking, there's a black hole of human suffering. Michael and Georges face the realities behind those stories every day. 

I've been working against human trafficking for almost six years now, and it's been one of the most difficult things I've ever done. Between them, Michael and Georges have been doing it for almost four decades. 

I'm sure it hasn't been easy. Better than anyone, they know just how important their work is, and they deserve every bit of support and respect we can give them. 

People have been asking if I'm excited about the release of 'Sisters For Sale' - about going to film festivals, and seeing 'Sisters For Sale' on the big screen. 

No, I'm not excited about those things - but I am excited that 'Sisters For Sale' can finally start making a difference for the people who need it most. 

- Ben 

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Something to think about

Posted November 08

For months, the question on everyone's lips has been, When will 'Sisters For Sale' be released? 

Last week I announced the details of our premiere, which will be held on 29th November at the Human Rights Film Festival in Naples, Italy. 

Several team members and supporters from across Italy and Europe are planning to attend, which is great. 

Now the question everyone is asking me is if I'll be there. Many have simply assumed I will be. 

Of course I'd love to be there for the world premiere of the film I've spent 5.5 years of my life working on - not to mention the fact that Italy is one of my favourite countries on Earth, and I know some amazing people in Naples I haven't seen for many years. 

But the answer is no - I won't be there. 

It's not a question of money. For me, it's primarily an environmental question. 

I've been very fortunate in having spent over 11 years abroad, living and travelling around 65+ countries of the world. In all that time and travelling, you'd be amazed how little I've flown. 

The vast majority of my travels have been made overland - by public transport, shared vehicle, or touring bicycle. I've travelled overland from Morocco to Moscow, Lofoten to Cappadocia, Lombok to Ladakh, Anchorage to La Paz. 

As AirAsia loves to tell us, now everyone can fly - but should we? Alongside eating animals and having children, it's one of the biggest impacts we as individuals can make on our planet.

I have flown, and will fly again - but it's not something I do lightly. For me, a film premiere doesn't justify a return trip around the globe. I realise that's not a popular attitude - and I think that's part of the reason our planet is such a mess. 

A flight is not simply a flight. It's an expression of values which becomes part of a broader culture. 

Some will say that the actions of individuals can't or won't make a difference. 'Sisters For Sale', 'The Human, Earth Project', and my entire life stand in direct opposition to that idea. 

After all, what else is a culture made of? 

- Ben 

PS. As I was finishing this message I received the details of our Australian premiere, will take place in January. This one is much closer to home, and I do intend to be there - details soon!

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Posted November 02

Two weeks ago, I announced that the world premiere of our feature documentary, 'Sisters For Sale', would be taking place in Italy this month.

Today I can share the details with you. 

'Sisters For Sale' will be screening in competition at the 'X Festival del Cinema dei Diritti Umani di Napoli' - that is, the 10th edition of the Human Rights Film Festival of Naples. 

The festival is an ideal premiere for our documentary, whose story revolves around human trafficking and women's rights issues. 

The festival comprises two sub-festivals - the 'Focus' festival, and the 'Spread' festival. 'Sisters For Sale' will screen at both. 

The official selection includes 18 films from five continents, which will be screened in competition during the 'Focus' festival. This will run from 27th November to 5th December in Piazza Forcella, in the heart of Naples, and will also include a series of talks by filmmakers. 

The 'Spread' festival has already begun and will run for the entire month on November, with screenings of both the official selection and out-of-competition films at various venues around Naples. 

The main screening of 'Sisters For Sale' will take place during the 'Focus' festival on 29th November. The full competition program can be found here - if you're planning to be there, let us know! 

A lesser screening will take place during the 'Spread' festival on 18th November, in the Quarto district. 

In other news... 

Thanks to Tria Vang, who has been doing an amazing job on the Hmong translation of 'Sisters For Sale, the film trailer is now available also in the Hmong language - you can see it here

Last week, Myste Laquinta sent me a package of 'Sisters For Sale' posters. 

It was amazing to see them at last in real life - the print quality is impeccable, with even better colours and paper than the test print I'd had here. They're significantly bigger, too - the perfect size for a wall feature, or to hang on a door. 

So much of what we've created with this project has been digital - even the documentary itself. Being able to hold the poster in my hands makes 'Sisters For Sale' seem more real somehow, and its a good feeling. 

If you'd like a poster, you can order one here. It's a beautiful thing to have, and a fantastic way to support our ongoing work. 


- Ben 

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Posted October 29

It's been a wild few weeks here at 'The Human, Earth Project'. 

Our feature documentary, 'Sisters For Sale' - conceived in 2013, shot in 2014, scratched together in 2015, finally funded in 2016, cut and polished in 2017, with an original score added just last month - was at last completed this morning. 

Getting to this point has been a far longer journey than anticipated, and has at times been a frustrating and highly challenging one. It has taken a colossal effort involving the efforts of dozens, and the support of thousands. It's fantastic to have finally arrived. 

Recently, with the film nearing completion, we'd been looking for a suitable film festival to host our world premiere. 

A few weeks ago, we were given an excellent opportunity to premiere next month, at a highly appropriate film festival in Italy. But there was a catch - we needed to deliver a complete Italian translation of the film within three weeks, and we didn't have one. 

Translating a feature film is a huge and time-consuming job. We'd already had 'Sisters For Sale' translated into six languages. Each time, we've had a team of people working simultaneously on different parts of the script, then a supervising translator to check the entire script. It could take months to produce a quality translation of the full documentary. 

Realistically, we had only two weeks for the Italian translation, allowing an extra week to compile, check, export and deliver the finished film. I didn't know if it would be possible to coordinate a translation in such a short period of time - but decided to give it a shot anyway. 

I put a shout-out on social media, and began to assemble a team. Our supervising Spanish translator, Laura Rodriguez Jarillo, shared my message with a community of professional translators - and Elisabetta Disa responded. 

That was 7.30pm, on the 12th October. There was no need for a team, Elisabetta assured me. She was confident to deliver the full translation of the documentary herself, in under two weeks. 

I didn't know Elisabetta, and had never seen her work. If I agreed, our world premiere would be riding on the casual assurance of a complete stranger. As with so many things on this project, it was a leap of faith, based on a gut feeling. I jumped - and Elisabetta came through. 

Elisabetta delivered the completed translation - 1,534 separate captions, all meticulously translated and perfectly in order - by 11am, on the 26th October. She apologised for having taken so long - she'd been tied up with other work. 

Over the past year, I've learned quite a bit about translation. There's an element of lateral thinking and creative problem-solving involved, and it's clearly not an easy thing to do well. Our script is a particularly tricky one, with so many people in the story speaking English as a second language. 

All of our supervising translators have been absolute rockstars. Theirs was a bigger job that I'd first realised, and they've all put a huge amount of love and care into their work. 

Elisabetta, in completing a full translation so quickly, and entirely by herself, has taken it to a new level. She's been phenomenal, and a real pleasure to work with. 

I once spent 15 months living in Italy. I can understand the language well enough to know that Elisabetta hasn't just given us a translation - she's given us an amazing translation. 

I was gobsmacked - flabbergasted, even - at what she was able to achieve in such a short period of time. Thanks to Elisabetta, we will have our world premiere in Italy next month. 

(Because Elisabetta is from the same region of Italy where the film will be screening, and because I thought it would be a fun thing to do, she's even translated a little message into the local dialect for me, to display at the beginning of the film!)

Meanwhile, however, 'Sisters For Sale' wasn't quite finished. 

After receiving the completed musical score from our composers Johanna N. Wilson and my brother Will M. Randall last month, 'Sisters For Sale' had passed into the hands of Curtis Fritsch IV and his team of sound designers at Alphadogs Inc, in Burbank, California. 

Curtis has actually been attached to this project since last June, and is way, way overdue for an introduction. For the past 16 months, he has been working quietly away behind the scenes, and waiting for the final pieces to arrive. 

I had originally intended to join Curtis and his team at Alphadogs for the final audio mix of the film. Instead, Curtis was in the studio with Yuxin Boon and Juan-Lucas Rafael Flying Eagle Benavidez, while he and I spent the year sending endless lists of notes back and forth across the Pacific. 

It's been a monumental job, involving countless hours spent trawling through files to find the right sounds to construct each scene, and blending them together with the dialogue, narration, and music. 

Vietnam and China are extremely noisy locations, and two of the biggest challenges have been avoiding the squawking chickens and roaring motorbikes which so often dominate the soundscapes there. The third biggest challenge, I suppose, was me and my occasional temptation to tweak the film's edit. 

Curtis has been an ideal co-worker - dedicated, patient, optimistic, and energetic - who has poured a huge amount of time into this project. With the festival deadline approaching, I was very impressed by Curtis' heroic efforts to draw together all the fragments of audio into one cohesive sound mix. 

This weekend, Curtis and I both spent long, sleep-deprived days and nights glued to our computers, making final adjustments. At four-thirty this morning, while I grabbed a few hours' rest, Curtis delivered the final mix - the final element to fall into place on this marathon, 5.5-year documentary project. 

I want to thank Curtis, Yuxin, Juan-Lucas, Elisabetta, and each of you for joining us on our long, fascinating journey. 

This is not an ending, but a beginning. It's really only the first step of a much longer journey, and there are already signs it's going to get a whole lot more interesting before it's finished. 

The next step is to work out how and when it will be made available, especially to those of you who have supported it, and we'll share the festival details as soon as we have the program. 

Well, no - that's not entirely true. The next step is sleep.

Stay tuned!

- Ben 

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