On the first weekend in February, the Boston Initiative to Advance Human Rights held the 2012 Film Forum: Fighting Trafficking through Film. The goal was to harness the visceral power of film to illuminate the issues of commercial sexual exploitation and modern-day slavery. Eight pictures were screened, along with two trailers previewing upcoming documentaries. Panel discussions followed each movie. Experts from the fields of law, social services, academia, activism and culture joined with survivors to discuss the intersection of their respective areas and how each could be an integral part of the engagement to liberate the 27 million people currently enslaved -- of which "79 percent is for the express purpose of sexual trafficking."
Rebecca J. Merrill, Executive Director of BITAHR, explained, "Art has the unique capability to engage, enrage and empower its audience to act and ultimately effect social change. For this reason, the 2012 BITAHR Film Forum uses a combination of documentary film and multi-media art to spread awareness and equip an audience with the tools and skills necessary to join a movement."
Saturday night featured a keynote address by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), a co-sponsor of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. Maloney has been proactive in addressing women's rights both globally and domestically. A week later, she would make headlines on Capitol Hill, advocating for women's voices to be heard.
The Philippines, Bosnia, Moldova, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Burma, Cambodia, and India -- as well as the national locales of Boston and New York City -- were the focal points of a feature length drama (The Whistleblower), animation (Red Leaves Falling), and documentaries.
Representing the cultural community, Judy Boyle, founder of The NO Project and Justin Dillon, a musician, discussed how the arts can impact understanding and harness visibility for what has been pointed to as the key human rights issue of the 21st Century.
The NO Project targets youth awareness through the tools of art, music, hip-hop, and film -- expanded via social media and education. Boyle's premise is to build awareness and change though the upcoming generation, employing the power of young people to influence attitudes and behavior. Boyle is committed to the belief that "each individual citizen carries the responsibility to confront and eliminate the demand for slavery."
Dillon's "Rockumentary," Call + Response, uses the talents of musicians juxtaposed with commentary by activists, government officials, and social critics to examine the imperative for worldwide abolition. His online initiative, Slavery Footprint, is educating consumers on the role they play in modern-day slavery -- however inadvertently -- through the purchasing choices that they make.
The audience was multi-generational, with burgeoning activists hungry to take away how best to be instrumental in amplifying and extending the conversation. Leah Cogan and Chris Jackson are the co-founders of The Abolitionist Theatre Company, an ensemble of performance artists from Brown University. Committed to using theater for social transformation, they have adopted the tag line, "Performing the change we wish to see in the world." Executive Director Cogan noted that their mission was to bring their skills as performance artists to bear in broadening the abolitionist campaign. She spoke of "the restructuring and re-envisioning of cultural perspective by inviting unvoiced subcultures into the discussion." Like Boyle, she sees reaching out to "young people" and encouraging them to speak up as an important form of engagement -- as well as an element in the equation for consciousness.
Mimi Chakarova, director of The Price of Sex, was present for the screening of her documentary and the follow-up discussion on "Organized Crime and Sex Trafficking." Her contributions as both a photographer and a filmmaker have been recognized through awards such as the Nestor Almendros Award for Courage in Filmmaking, which she received at the 2011 Human Rights Watch Film Festival.
Like the other creatives present at the Film Forum, her work is entering the mainstream dialogue as a reference point for understanding and confronting human trafficking.
Underscoring this point, Katherine Bright, Executive Producer of the Film Forum stated, "Recognizing that awareness is just the beginning step, BITAHR uses film to touch the spirit in a lasting and meaningful way that creates life-long advocates dedicated to advancing social justice."
This article originally appeared on the website cultureID
Full disclosure: I am the co-founder of cultureID, which was a co-sponsor of the Film Forum