My awareness or interest in the lives of girls who are trafficked was curtly dismissive at best, until I met them. In 1999, my school friend, a Burmese social worker, invited me to visit her repatriation program for girls released from prostitution through raids. What I found were individual accounts of deeply troubling dimensions, each very different from the other. Through the collection of those accounts, a larger picture of grave proportions emerged, compelling me to embark on a journey of deep struggle and discovery.
After my first research trip to Myanmar, I returned shell-shocked and horrified as I processed the incomprehensible. As I began to plan the production trip, I sorted through the obstacles to come. Because Myanmar is a dictatorship, we scrapped our original plans for a 16mm shoot, learning that it is impossible to get government approval for the use of such filming equipment. Instead, we planned to hide our gear. Splitting up two digital cameras and the sound equipment amongst three people, each crewmember entered the country from different routes on different days. Coordination with my contacts was almost impossible as the Burmese government taps phone lines and monitors faxes. The "green light" on the operation changed in an instant as we were told that the trip had to be cancelled, helpless to understand the true nature of the situation.
Once in the country, we carefully went about our dicey operation in the paranoid dictatorship. Our cover as tacky, obnoxious tourists took on its own claustrophobic dimensions as constant double-speak confused even simple communication. To get some of the footage we had to travel to areas off-limits to tourists. In the forbidden townships, we took turns playing the curiosity–seeking, mindless tourist out for a bit of fun, and the serious filmmaker, documenting a world that supports staggering dimensions of poverty and widely accepts the trafficking of girls and women. Our luck seemed to have run out when the military personnel stopped us. I had no feelings or thoughts as I stood breathless, until the officials were satisfied that the pale foreigners—stupid enough to have lost their way—understood that they were not welcome to return.
As the days of shooting wore on, the tension of getting the tapes out of the country became painfully real. The intensity of the situation left us unable to even speak our concerns—we knew far too well what being caught with the tapes would mean. Several days before our staggered departure was to take place, a brave woman asked if I could take some gifts back to Boston for her so as not to burden her visiting family member who had other stops to make before returning to the US. I understood her encoded proposal—we would make a trade—the tapes for the gifts. For risking her well being to bring the film to the U.S., I cannot thank that woman enough.
The rest was a blur as we struggled to leave the country. In the Bangkok Airport, I shed the tourist cover that, while robbing my identity, had also shielded me from detection, making possible my safe return. I realized that to ensure the safety of those who had helped me on my quest, I would have to provide them the same anonymity. The name of the film was clear—from the girls sold for sex to those who smuggled out the tapes, they remain anonymously yours.
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