Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A call to action | Life | Welland Tribune

Source: Welland Tribune

By Cheryl Clock, The Standard

THOROLD - He stood in The Virgin Room. Filmmaker Christopher Bessette, alone with his camera.
It was 2008 and he was in Cambodia shooting footage for a documentary about an organization that rescues children from the sex trade.
He was visiting a village near Phnom Penh, in a building that was once used as a brothel. The Virgin Room was the place where girls as young as five and six were sold for sex.
It had been turned into a community centre. And the room was empty. Repainted.
Bessette stared out of the second-floor window, watching children play in the street below.
His thoughts drifted to the room's past.
"There was probably, one day, a little girl standing here looking out this same window."
Bessette is a 50-year-old father of three. A husband. A guy who went to E.L. Crossley Secondary School and these days still lives in his childhood house in Thorold. And a guy with a soft spot in his heart for the exploited, for people without a voice.
At that very moment, alone in the Virgin Room, something spoke to him from deep inside.
He heard himself whisper the words: "Oh, God, help me do something. Help me tell her story."
The little girl in his imagination -- and all she represented -- drove Bessette to once again do what he knows best. The result is the $6-million independent film, Trade of Innocents, written and directed by Bessette. Set in present-day Southeast Asia, the story unfolds with a filthy cinderblock room, a bed with soiled sheets and a little girl who waits for the next man to exploit her.
Alex Becker is a human trafficking investigator played by Dermot Mulroney (Young Guns, My Best Friends Wedding). His wife, Claire, (Mira Sorvino) volunteers in an aftercare shelter for rescued girls.
Actor John Billingsley (alien Dr. Doctor Phlox on the television series Star Trek: Enterprise), plays a pedophile with a perverted quest to steal the innocence of "fresh" little girls.
The pimp is played by actor Trieu Tran.
The film, shot in Bankok, Thailand last year, will be screened at Central Community Church in St. Catharines on Friday, Dec. 7 -- only the second time it's been shown in Canada. Afterwards, Bessette will answer questions from the audience.
Bessette wants to make a difference. "I don't know how anyone can see this and not do something about it," he says.
There's one scene in particular where directing crossed into reliving for him. It's based on an experience he had back in Cambodia. He was in a hotel having pizza and drinks. A Wednesday night. He sat at a table near the stage where a band was playing Top 40 American hits.
A Cambodian man walked in with an American-looking man, in his 60s, dressed in a black track suit with white piping down the leg. Walking beside him, a young Cambodian girl.
Soon after sitting at a reserved table near the stage, the Cambodian man leaves. The white man hands the little girl a note, and she takes it to the band. They begin playing Puppy Love.
The man pulls her chair closer to his and strokes the inside of her thigh.
Bessette wants to jump up and rescue her. He is held back. There must be an investigation. Evidence collected. Procedure followed.
"We could save that one girl, but sacrifice 30 other girls," he says.
The man leaves with the girl. Bessette never sees him again.
Except inside his head, over and over again, where that experience becomes the "Puppy Love" bar scene.
He once told the film's producer: "I just wish I could have done more."
"You are. You are now," is the response.
Bessette hopes that people do more than feel disgusted and walk away. He wants them to take action. Take a stand.
"It means nothing if people don't respond and take the story to heart," he says.
And in the words of the Mulroney's character, Alex Becker, responding to a suggestion that his efforts to shut down every brothel are futile:
"And if this were your daughter?"
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