Sisters For Sale

Posted March 03

The search

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Into the music

Posted September 21

Imagine you're a painter. For years, you've been labouring away on one huge canvas, pouring your heart and soul into it. 

Suddenly another artist - someone you barely know - enters the studio and starts painting all over your work. You don't know which brushes, colours, or even which style they're going to choose. You're no longer the artist, but the audience. 

That's how I felt last year, when I handed over our feature documentary, 'Sisters For Sale', to be scored. Since then, Johanna Wilson, accompanied by my brother Will Randall, have been working hard to create the music for the film. 

Like many aspects of filmmaking, scoring a film is both creative and technical, and far more complex than it seems. 

Creating a powerful piece of art on a blank canvas is already challenging enough. Creating a powerful piece of music to meld with and enhance a film whose moods and rhythms are already established cannot be easy - especially with an emotionally-nuanced film like 'Sisters For Sale'. 

(I shared a sneak preview of the music last week - you can find it here!)


Filmmaking sounds like an exciting job - most of the time, though, it's not. There are countless long, tedious hours spent on computers, as countless complex pieces come together and fit into place at glacial pace. 

Then there are times when filmmaking truly is something special, and exciting. This week has been one of those times, as I've been fitting the final version of Joh and Will's score together with the other elements of the film. 

Finally, I've had a glimpse of the finished canvas as Joh and Will have imagined it - and it's stunning. I feel privileged to have witness the creation of something so beautiful. 

Like the film itself, the score is composed of many carefully-constructed pieces. All of these pieces fit together and build towards an epic climax involving eight minutes of incredible music by Joh, Will, and Mike Taylor, stunning visuals lushly coloured by Laco Gaal and Jeppe Hildebrandt, and gorgeous artwork by Marta Farina. It's perfect.

The music is now being sent to Curtis Fritsch IV and his team in Los Angeles. Though I haven't yet introduced you properly, Curtis and his team have been working on the sound design for the film over the last twelve months. They're now getting ready for the final mix - and then we're done! 

It's an exciting time and, with the music in place, I'm more excited than ever to share the finished film - watch this space!

Last week I shared the final poster design for the film, which I'm also really excited about. If you'd like to pick up a copy and support our fight against human trafficking, it's now available for sale here on our website. 


Thanks!

- Ben 


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Preparation for launch

Posted September 12

I have two very special surprises for you today. 

It has taken more time than expected to finish our feature documentary, 'Sisters For Sale', and you've all been waiting very patiently. 

Today I want to give you a special sneak peek at what we've been working on. I'm sharing a piece of the introduction, from near the beginning of the film. 

It's not quite finished yet - the audio hasn't been properly mixed, and there are still some sound effects to be added, but it's getting very close. 

The reason I've chosen to share this particular part with you is because it includes one of the many beautiful pieces of music written and performed by Johanna N. Wilson for the film. 

Some of it will look familiar to those of you who saw the 40-minute Little Sisters version of 'Sisters For Sale' in late 2016, before the editing, colour correction, and music were finalised. 

At 86 minutes, the final version will be more than twice the length of the Little Sisters version, and include a huge amount of material never seen before. 

It's an exciting time for us. Johanna and my brother, Will M. Randall, are delivering the finished score for the documentary this week, then the film will be ready for the last stage of post-production: the final audio mix. 

With much of the work already done, the audio mix is expected to be completed in a matter of weeks. 

Here's the video (if it doesn't appear below, you can find it here) - enjoy!


I have another special surprise for you today, too. 

In April, I asked you to choose between four poster designs for our feature documentary, 'Sisters For Sale'. 

Each of the four posters had its own group of die-hard supporters, but the fourth design - the 'Sunset Glow' design - proved the most popular. 

I liked the design, but there was something that bothered me about it. It was clean, bold, and simple - but there was no real depth to it. 

I wanted to print some large-format posters. Though the 'Sunset Glow' design looked fine on a computer, I didn't feel it would translate very well to a bigger size. 

I'd hang it on my wall, yes - but I'd never really look at it, because there's not much there to see. You could take it all in at a single glance, and have no real reason to ever look at it again. 

I wanted to give people something really special - a more engaging design, with more to explore visually. Call me a perfectionist, but I'm really glad I persisted with it. 

Using the 'Sunset Glow' poster as my starting point, I began developing a new design - the 'Mountain Mist' design. 

This was by far the most involved poster design to date. It became a team effort spanning several months, and I'd like to thank Melissa Adams, Katie Carriero, Claire Harris, Geoffrey Hindmarsh, Astrid Hofer, Myste Laquinta, Susan Randall, and Karina Thomson for all their assistance. 

The result is both striking and subtle, combining the most powerful elements of the four previous designs: the instant engagement of the 'Cinematic' design, the sense of sisterhood of the 'Classic' design, the naked humanity of the 'Mother's Love' design, and the powerful visual imagery of the 'Sunset Glow' design. 

The 'Mountain Mist' design looks good on a computer, and looks fantastic when printed on a larger scale. I really enjoyed making it, and consider it one of the best designs I've ever worked on. 


I love the atmosphere of the design, and feel it captures the essence of the film far better than any of the previous designs. There are sympathetic women (some strong, some vulnerable), menacing-looking men, and plenty of unanswered questions. 

Framed by a dark, classically-shaped archway, the elements fit together in unexpected ways to form an intricate world of light and shadow for you to explore. I have a large test print on my wall at home, and still find myself captivated by its detail and textures. 

Everyone who has seen the poster in person has loved it. Though it's not the same on a computer, I'll give you a quick tour, so you can see what makes this poster so special. 

'Sisters For Sale' follows my (unexpectedly successful) investigation into the disappearance of my friend May. May was kidnapped from her home in Sapa, a mountain town in northern Vietnam. 

Sapa's pervasive mist has been used throughout the documentary as a visual metaphor for the mysterious and unknown. 

Two of the key figures from the investigation - May's father, and one of her closest friends - can be seen above the title as ghostly figures in the mist. 

In the foreground, the three women from the 'Sunset Glow' poster walk down a long road which disappears into dense fog. 

This is one of my favourite images from the documentary. Here, it becomes a metaphor for the uncertainty of life, and particularly for the life of women in Sapa. 

Each of the women is at a very different stage of her life: there is an older woman, a teenager, and a younger girl who looks to the others for support. 

Beyond them, a Hmong man aggressively pursues a teenaged girl in traditional costume. Here, as in many places, the image is enhanced by subtle details - such as the vague shadows the running figures cast on the mist which swallows their feet. 

Two men emerge from the mist on Cầu Mây street. One of the principal streets of Sapa, this is where May and her friends once spent their days selling handicrafts to tourists, before May and four of her friends were kidnapped in separate incidents. 

Cầu Mây is also the street that appears at the beginning of the video you've just seen. (Cầu Mây means "cloud bridge" in Vietnamese, which I love.)

The eyes at the top are my own and, while I had mixed feelings about including them in the design, I ultimately felt it was somewhat misleading not to represent my own role in the investigation. 

The faces and figures from the central part of the design are all reflected in the pupils, echoing the idea that the story is shown through these eyes. 

The photograph was taken after riding through the mists of Sapa - you can actually see drops of water clinging to the eyelashes, which looks great on the full-sized poster. 

At the bottom of the poster, I've included some of the key figures who made the documentary possible: Marta Farina, Curtis Fritsch IV and Alphadogs Inc. (I'll introduce you soon!), Laco Gaal, Jeppe Hildebrandt, Myste Laquinta, Moreno, Will M. Randall, Rami Shaafi, Michael Taylor, Johanna Wilson, and myself. 

This is the final design, and will be the official poster for 'Sisters For Sale'. 

We've just had them printed as large (61 x 91cm, or 24 x 36in) high-quality offset prints on 150gsm gloss paper stock, and they look gorgeous. If you'd like your very own print, you can order one here. 

Every order supports our work against human trafficking. 

For the next five days only - until Sunday 16th September - we're giving discounted postage and handling on every order. 

Delivery is currently only available to the US, Canada, and Australia (we're still working out the postage to other areas!)

Thank you! 

I'd like to thank Myste Laquinta, who will be handling North American orders, and Leonie Brok, who has been helping with my European enquiries. 

- Ben 

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The masterplan

Posted September 10

I have something very special to share with you in the coming week. Today I want to give you a glimpse at what's been happening behind the scenes, to give you a better idea of where we've come from, and where we're going. 

Ten years ago today, I began my first journey through Asia. 

I spent 3 years and 3 months travelling overland from Indonesia to India. It was a journey that took me from sandy tropical beaches to the frozen heights of the Himalaya. 

I travelled through 11 countries, taking a series of portraits of local people in towns and villages along the way. This one, for example, is a little girl named Dian, whom I photographed in Sumatra in October 2008: 


Five years ago, I returned to Asia to reprise that journey, to search for 100 of those people and learn their stories. 

After an epic ten-month journey, I succeeded in finding no less than 80 of those 100 people. They were wonderful people, and they shared incredible stories with me. Here's Dian in October 2013, after surviving a major earthquake in her hometown: 


I took a cameraman with me, and the entire journey was filmed, to be made into a series of short films, tentatively titled 'Epic'. We released a teaser, and I even began editing the first film. 

But life laughs at our plans. 

Something incredible happened - against all odds, I actually succeeded in finding my friends May and Pang, who had been kidnapped from their home in Vietnam and sold as teenaged brides in China. 

May and Pang became the focus of my work, and their story became the focus of our forthcoming feature documentary, 'Sisters For Sale'. 

 

'Sisters For Sale' is an extremely unusual story with the power to make a very real difference against the global human trafficking crisis. There has been so much interest in the story that we've begun expanding it as both a book and serialised podcast.

The documentary is now in the final stages of post-production, and is due for release in the coming months. The book is well underway and is looking great, with a manuscript expected by the end of the year. 

Our plans for the podcast, however, have also changed - after a phenomenal amount of research, having produced a great pilot episode and scripting several hours' worth of fascinating material, producer Claire Harris is no longer available for the project, and the podcast is currently on hold. 

Claire has been a pleasure to work with over the past eighteen months. I'm sorry to see her leave the project, and wish her all the best for the future. 

'The Human, Earth Project', at heart, is a tiny project. With the right funding, there's so much more we could be doing to raise awareness of human trafficking - not only with the 'Sisters For Sale' podcast and the 'Epic' films, but in building a true global community. 

Claire was working part-time on this project for eighteen months. If we could have given her the money she needed to dedicate a little more time to the project, I'd be sharing a completed podcast with you now. 

With the right funding, the 'Epic' films could also have been completed by now. It's frustrating to find these limits constantly drawn around our work, when we could be achieving so much more. 

The work we do is highly specialised. To do it properly, we need talented people, and we need to be able to pay them for their time. Until we can do that, we're going to lose great people like Claire, and a lot of great opportunities to make a difference. 

I currently have three core team members working with me on 'The Human, Earth Project' - Melissa Adams, Katie Carriero, and Astrid Hofer. All three are highly talented - and all three are volunteers, giving what time they can outside their regular jobs. 

With the right funding, we can give our team the support they need to help the project grow. We're now working to source the funding we need so that this project can reach its true potential, and make the biggest impact we possibly can. 

This is an important time for us, with the release of the documentary approaching, and I hope it's one we'll be able to take full advantage of. 

- Ben 

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Pro-dialogue

Posted August 28

This post isn't about our work against human trafficking - it's more important than that, and it affects us all, so please take a moment to read it through. 

We're living in a deeply divided world. 

Politically, I identify as a liberal, as do most of my friends. We liberals are currently positioning ourselves as the bastions of logic and reason in a world gone mad. We seem to be waiting for everyone else to wake up from their collective madness, so that all will be well with the world again. 

But does that position actually make any sense at all? What are we actually achieving? 

We spend so much of our time and energy focused on Donald Trump and his behaviour, when there's extremely little - if anything - we can do to change it. The result is that we, as individuals, only succeed in making ourselves feel righteous, helpless, and upset. We harden our stances, which only takes us further from solving the real issues at hand. 

What are the real issues at hand? I see three core issues affecting the Western political world today: 

1. Unstable, increasingly polarised societies. 

2. A huge proportion of non-voters who are unwilling to get involved. 

3. Potential foreign interference in the internal workings of the US political system.

Trump is more than just a man. He's the figurehead for a large segment of society who feel they have no other representation. Whatever the rationale behind those feelings, the feelings themselves are legitimate and need to be treated as such, not merely dismissed as "wrong". 

Even if Trump were to be removed, that segment of society would remain, and the problem would remain unsolved. 

I was speaking recently with a highly intelligent, very well-informed relative, who has tried hard and simply cannot comprehend the logic of conservative voters. Without realising it, he's put his finger on the problem right there: it's not necessarily a matter of logic. It's something far deeper than that. 

The best explanation I can find is an analogy. 

Galileo Galilei was a Italian scientist, now credited as the father of modern science. Galileo lived at a time when the Earth was believed to stand at the centre of the universe, and mankind at the pinnacle of all creation. Galileo, with his logical observations of the real world, challenged this conception. The Catholic Church, representing the dominant belief system of the age, denounced Galileo as a heretic, and he spent the rest of his life under house arrest. 

With the benefit of our current knowledge and education, we can now say that Galileo's observations were correct. 

In a way, however, the Catholic Church was also correct. Galileo's world was a Catholic one. In fact, Galileo himself was a devout Catholic - but his research carried implications that would have caused unimaginable social, political, and spiritual upheavals to the Catholic world. Those upheavals have since taken place, but in a more gradual way. 

In Galileo's day, the world simply wasn't ready for the idea that mankind, rather than being the centre of all creation, inhabited a small and otherwise insignificant rock in the backwaters of the universe. Many of us struggle with that concept even today, four hundred years later. 

If you and I had been born in Galileo's time, it's unlikely we would have supported his theories, regardless of the logic behind them. Those theories would have challenged our very conception of our reality. We would have responded on an emotional, rather than logical, level. In all probability, we would have opposed those theories vehemently - even violently - and would have seen ourselves as unquestionably right in doing so. 

Now imagine you're a white male born in post-war America. You've been raised in a nation that leads the world, both politically and economically, and you stand at the peak of its social hierarchy. Then things begin to change. Political power begins to shift - to Europe, Russia, and China. Jobs are lost to Asia. Your sense of personal pride depends on being able to provide a home and a stable life for your family - but that's not so simple anymore. 

Today, society has become far more complex. Minority groups have gained more recognition and power. Immigrants of all colours, nationalities and beliefs have become increasingly visible. The gay rights movement has come forward with increasingly confusing acronyms like LGBTIQ. People have begun inventing an increasingly complex array of genders, and "men" have begun demanding the right to use women's bathrooms. There has been an African-American in the White House, with a woman lining up to take his place. 

The future, as ever, is uncertain. Some people are campaigning for these changes, believing them to be right. Others are willing and able to adapt to these changes. Some, however, can't or won't change. They don't know how to adapt these changes into their world view, and all they want is for everything to go back the way it was. 

From a liberal point of view, many of these social changes are both correct and necessary - but some people simply aren't willing or able to change so radically in such a short period of time. These people feel ignored, and forced into social roles they no longer recognise. Perhaps they're angry, or afraid. 

What we liberals don't seem to realise is this: it's perfectly legitimate for people to feel that way. In their position, we would feel the same way. These people have found a political figurehead that promises them a return to the comfort and stability of the world that has been taken from them, and a sense of self-worth that modern society denies them. It's only natural that they would support him, and passionately so. 

By belittling these people and making them feel as though their opinions are invalid, we liberals are failing to recognise the root cause of the issue - and, in fact, are only making it worse. We are the ones deepening the rift in society, with our blind assertions that the only logical and legitimate way forward is our own way, and with our persistent refusal to acknowledge alternate points of view. 

And so we find society polarised between two groups who feel angry, hurt, and resentful towards each other. Rather than attempting any true dialogue or any deeper understanding between those groups, we continue to antagonise each other, and make the problem worse. 

Social media gives each of us a self-reinforcing bubble, where each of us sees the world we want to see. We strengthen our positions and stoke our anger amongst our groups of like-minded friends, until we can no longer imagine how anyone could possibly hold any opposing point of view. We start to believe that anyone who doesn't share our own opinions is essentially an idiot, and unworthy of our time. 

But this is not a solution, and these bubbles we've created bear no relation to reality. This is not how a democracy functions. To believe in democracy is to believe in dialogue, particularly with people of opposing points of view. 

The majority of my friends on social media, as in real life, are liberals. Several months ago, because of a shared interest in fighting human trafficking, I connected with a friend of a friend on Facebook. I soon realised that his political views were the polar opposite of my own - and he would voice them regularly, often commenting on my political posts. 

To be perfectly honest, my first reaction was shock and disgust, and I briefly considered removing him from my contacts - but his comments were thoughtful, and respectfully written. I began to admire his courage in engaging myself and my liberal friends in debate, even when he was clearly outnumbered. Our debates remain civil and respectful, with both sides taking the time to listen to opposing opinions. That, to me, is the very essence of democracy. 

This stranger was giving me something I didn't have - an insightful personal perspective from the opposite side of the political fence. In the self-reinforcing world of social media, I found his ideas refreshing. They expanded, rather than narrowing, my own perspective. I could see the validity of his feelings, if not his arguments. He helped me see that some of my own arguments weren't as watertight as I imagined, and that the issues involved are often more complex than I realised. 

As I see it now, the most important thing is not whether or not you're pro-Trump. It's whether or not you're pro-dialogue. If you're not willing to listen respectfully to people who hold opposing points of view, then you're only making the situation worse, and are ultimately undermining the democratic system. 

Yes, the logic of our current political situation needs to be recognised - but so do people's feelings. Right now, they are perhaps the most neglected part of the equation, and the one that needs most desperately to be solved. People have turned to Trump because nobody else has been willing to listen to them, and to recognise their feelings as valid. We need to change that, and to remove the need for divisive political figures like Trump. 

The onus of responsibility here is in on the liberals. After all, we are the ones seeking change. It's time to stop acting victimised, to get beyond the fact of Trump's presidency, and start recognising the very real and legitimate reasons why he continues to receive so much support. 

If we claim our political systems are flawed, but make no other effort to heal the deep and widening rifts within our societies, then we have only ourselves to blame for whatever the future may hold. 

I was speaking recently with another friend who doesn't follow politics at all, and has no interest in doing so. While she can see that politics affect us all as individuals, she doesn't believe that we as individuals can affect politics. From her point of view, getting involved makes little difference, other than making people feel helpless and upset. 

Her point of view is also perfectly valid. In the West, we've been very fortunate in that our generation has never experienced a major war or depression. While none of us can say for certain whether that will continue, we as individuals do seem to have little effect on matters of international importance. 

Yet our society is made of nothing but individuals, and we're now familiar with the concept of ideas and behaviours spreading virally through society. Whether we realise it or not, whether by action or inaction, each of us can - and does - make a very real difference upon this world. 

It has been said, and quite rightly, that the outcome of the 2016 US Presidential election was determined not by the conservatives, but by the non-voters. A huge proportion of people are unwilling to get involved in politics - and I can understand why. Not only do they have a sense of political helplessness, but the political landscape has become a battleground, with people on both sides passionately invested in often obscure issues that might make little or no sense to the outsider. 

To the outsider, it must all seem like senseless violence - like stepping into the middle of a drunken brawl. 

Instead of making it easy for people to enter that space, we make it a confusing place full of jargon and assumed knowledge. Liberals, in particular, often conduct themselves with a sense of moral and intellectual superiority, which harms their cause more than they may realise. I personally shied away from politics for many years because I found it incomprehensible, and lacking an easy entry point. 

Several democratic countries, including Australia, have a system of compulsory voting. Anyone who fails to vote in an election receives a fine. This system gives people an incentive to become more involved in the political processes that shape their daily lives, and I support it. Ultimately, however, it's not the solution. 

By initiating a respectful, meaningful dialogue between ordinary people of all points of view, we provide a safe space for newcomers to enter the conversation, have their voices heard, and feel part of something greater than themselves. This concept stands at the very core of the democratic system. 

Right now, in America and around the world, that democratic system is failing. Politics has become a dirty, short-sighted game, corrupted by a relatively small group of wealthy powermongers. Politicians' egos have become prioritised over the well-being of the societies they exist to serve. Voters have become fixated on names, rather than ideas. Our own elected representatives are failing to participate in the respectful, meaningful dialogue that is so desperately needed. 

Only when a society stands together can it hope to protect itself against the interference of aggressive foreign powers. America today is not the great nation it once was, and American politics affect the state of the world in more profound ways than many Americans may realise. Many of us - whether liberal and conservative, Americans or otherwise - would like to see America return to the strength and stability of the past: but hatred and division is not the solution. 

It's up to us, as individuals, to step back from this senseless partisan hate and build stronger communities by engaging in genuine dialogue with each other about the issues that affect us all. It's time to stop blaming the politicians, and start taking responsibility for the well-being of our own societies. 

- Ben 

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