Posts Tagged ‘social justice’


I’m  convinced that this film will rate well, receive strong reviews, and be a  landmark film in dealing with the issue of trafficking and slavery.  However, I am also motivated by the real  impact this film may have on the lives of young women and children in  developing countries.  As an educational  tool it can raise awareness about the deceits involved in luring children into  foreign travel.  Simply put, this film  has the power to save lives, to prevent the course of events that led to the  destruction of Ning’s childhood, and despite her courage and dignity, to her  relationship with her family and husband.  Ning is now HIV positive.  Most  children who are trafficked are dead by the time they hit their twenties, or  HIV positive.  1.2 million children are  sold into brothels each year.  The social  justice agenda is an important one for Stella and I.  However, we are primarily filmmakers, and Trafficked-The Reckoning is not a  didactic piece, any more than Trafficked was  or our films about East TimorIt is a powerfully told story with a   strong understanding of what television audiences want to see.

Trafficked – The Reckoning Premiere Screening at Bella Union – Level 1, Trades Hall Corner of Victoria & Lygon Streets Carlton South (enter off Lygon Street). Tuesday 13th September 2011. Doors open at 6.30pm film starts at 7.30pm  Tickets on sale @ Bella Union Includes a Q & A with the Filmmakers following the screening

This is a very important project for a  number of reasons.  Stella Zammataro  (co-producer) and I have worked closely on the issue of sex trafficking since  1995.  Trafficked was the first Australian film, of any genre, to confront sex slavery in Australia.  Film Australia, SBS, and Stella and I, can be  very proud of that film.  As a direct  result of it’s screening it led to the first case in history, anywhere in the  world, of a slave receiving victim of crime compensation.  It is also the highest rating Storyline Australia documentary for SBS  which proved to the many sceptics we’d encountered in Australian broadcasting  that slavery does rate, certainly in the minds and hearts of the Australian  people, and certainly when it happens on a turf.   So this sequel, this second part, is a film  that as a director, and as a producer, I am passionate about.

I first met Ning in 2004.  But I had known her story since 1995 when I’d  read about a thirteen year-old Thai girl being pulled from a Sydney brothel and  deported.  There was no police  investigation, even though both the NSW police and the AFP were aware of the  incident.  Subsequently no arrests were  made in Australia.  Anti-slavery laws did  not exist in 1995 but the prostituting of a minor was a crime, and the NSW  State Police could have acted.  They  didn’t even though the Surry Hills police attended the raid and the King’s  Cross police were advised by Immigration that Ning was a minor.  I met Chris Payne soon after Ning was  deported.  Payne,  then an Australian Federal Police officer, was ‘pissed off’ that Paper Tiger, a  rogue operation that he’d started to combat sex trafficking, had been shut  down.  He’d been ordered not to  investigate Ning’s case. But he still went to the Immigration offices where  Ning was being interrogated before she was deported.  He was deeply moved by what he saw; a young  child, crying and shattered by the horrific rapes she’d endured.  That image haunted Payne for nearly ten  years.

We started to collaborate  on a documentary on Ning’s story and it took nine years for it to happen.  In 2004 Chris and I, and a crew, travelled to  Thailand to find Ning, and to understand how it was possible for a child from a  remote part of Thailand to end up in a brothel in the heart of Sydney.   We had no leads; no name, no address, no  access to Australian or Thai immigration or police records. We didn’t know if she was alive.  It was a remarkable act of faith on the part  of SBS Television and Film Australia to finance the film. We started in Bangkok and finally, after a  breakthrough from one of the Thais, then still in jail, who had trafficked her  to Sydney, we found Ning in a small town in Thailand’s northeast.  Her harrowing story was made into the documentary Trafficked, the first Australian film about sex slavery.

Ning was a young mother in 2004;  fragile and struggling to hold her life together after several suicide  attempts, drug and alcohol abuse, and an abusive relationship.  Her life fitted the pattern of most sex  trafficking victims.  When I returned to  Australia after meeting Ning I filmed the exterior of the Blackburn Street  Brothel where Ning was sold.  I felt an  immense rage that nothing had been done to find the man who ran the  brothel.  This was because Stella and I  now knew Ning.  She was part of our lives  and we became determined to do something to help her, and to get justice for what had happened to her in our country.  So we spent two years, together with Melbourne Senior Counsel Fiona  McLeod, researching and preparing a victim of compensation claim for Ning in  the state of NSW.  This was a difficult  process that involved three trips back to Thailand to organise statements and a  psychiatric evaluation for Ning.  In 2007  Ning became the first slave in history to be awarded victim of crime  compensation.  This was a landmark  decision, and it happened in Australia!  The award made a significant difference to Ning’s life financially but  it also convinced her that she was a victim and that the guilt and shame she  had felt for years after her time in the brothel was unjustified.

Ning, however, did not feel that justice had been done.  I agreed with  her, as did Chris Payne.  So we started a  new project, Trafficked-The  Reckoning.  The objective was to find  the man who operated the brothel that prostituted Ning and to assist in  bringing either criminal charges or a civil action against him.  Fiona McLeod again offered to represent Ning  pro-bono.  Screen Australia came on board  followed by SBS, and then Film Victoria.  We didn’t have a name or an address for the man.  We knew that he was from a Chinese background  from what Ning had told us.  But we had  no idea whether he was still in the country.  Nonetheless, on the surface this appeared to be a more straightforward  investigation than our search for Ning.  We at least had a place to start, the brothel at 1 Blackburn Street in  Surry Hills.   However, the investigation  proved to be a lot harder than Ning’s and took nearly twelve months from when  the research started.  It took us to  Thailand, to Tasmania, and to the back streets of cosmopolitan Surry Hills,  where the crime happened.

We found the man through a combination  of public records, information given to us by people who knew him, some of which will not go on record, and endless surveillance.  It was a slow, painstaking process that often  ended in despair.  I am relentless when  making a film and determined to get a result.  I was the only one in 2004 who never lost faith that we would find Ning.  But this investigation reached a point where  I felt that the man might never be found.  We discovered his name, William Lo, early on from public records, but we  couldn’t track him down, find an address or an image of him.  We were told that he still ran the Blackburn  Street brothel but our surveillance, and that of the private investigators we  hired, turned up nothing.  Lo, aka Hong Kong Willie, left few tracks.  He didn’t  appear in any Google search, and certainly wasn’t on Facebook.  Finally, a breakthrough led us to Lo.  We did a company search on an associate who  had once owned property with Lo, a woman called Bee Hong Ong.  We discovered that she had very recently  become the lessee on a property in Riley Street, Surry Hills.  This property was infamous as the site of  Sydney’s best-known bordello, A Touch of Class.  But it had been closed down for several years.  Now Bee Hong Ong, a woman connected to Hong  Kong Willie, was the new lessee.  But  William Lo’s name did not appear on any of the documentation for A Touch of  Class.   Surveillance established that staff vehicles associated with the Blackburn Street brothel were appearing at A  Touch of Class.  We then observed and  filmed a man, at the lane behind A Touch of Class, that fitted the description we had of William Lo.  We showed these  images to the property’s former landlord and he identified the man as William  Lo, as the man he’d dealt with directly in relation to Blackburn Street for  twelve years. We then confronted Lo,  filmed him again, and showed the images to Ning who positively identified the  man as the brothel operator.

Ning, together with  Melbourne Senior Counsel Fiona McLeod, will now try to bring a civil action  against William Lo.  If successful this  will be an historic case, as was Ning’s Victim of Crime compensation ruling.  Chris Payne has also written a report, which  he sent to the NSW Police in Surry Hills.  William Lo could still be charged for what he did to Ning in 1995.  The reckoning is not complete but we have
made a good start.

Trafficked – The Reckoning Premiere Screening at Bella Union – Level 1, Trades Hall Corner of Victoria & Lygon Streets Carlton South (enter off Lygon Street). Tuesday 13th September 2011. Doors open at 6.30pm film starts at 7.30pm  Tickets on sale @ Bella Union Includes a Q & A with the Filmmakers following the screening

Luigi Acquisto – Producer/Director


Director/Producer Luigi Acquisto

Luigi Acquisto has worked as a filmmaker for twenty years.  He has produced over thirty short films, directed television drama and is one of Australia’s leading documentary producers. His work is committed to exploring confronting social justice issues in an original and cinematic way.  It is often groundbreaking.

Acquisto’s first film, Spaventapasseri, was one of the first of a new wave of films made in the 1980’s that explored post war migration from Europe.

Trafficked was the first Australian film to deal with sex slavery in Australia.  It is the highest rating ‘Storyline Australia’ program for SBS TV.

Acquisto has made four documentaries about East Timor since the country’s historic vote for independence from Indonesia in 1999.  The three part series  East Timor:  Birth of a Nation – Rosa’s Story & Lu Olo’s Story (2002) and Rosa’s Journey (2008), is the first longitudinal documentary series tracking the emergence of a new nation.

His next film project will be A Guerra Da Beatrice.  Luigi has co-written and will co-direct it with East Timorese partners. A Guerra Da Beatrice will be East Timor’s first homegrown feature film.  It will lay the foundations for a future Timor Lester film culture and industry.

Stella Zammataro – Producer


Producer Stella Zammataro and Ning

In 1997 Stella co-founded Abracadabra Films with Luigi Acquisto.  Since then, she has produced many documentaries about some of the most critical social justice issues of our time.

The Life & Times of Malcolm Fraser was an engrossing portrait of Australia’s most controversial prime minister but also an indictment of Australia’s policies towards asylum seekers, aborigines and the decision to enter the Iraq war.

The two-part epic for ABC TV, East Timor: Birth of a Nation told the story of the 21st century’s first sovereign nation through the eyes of Rosa Martins, East Timor’s ‘Mother Courage’.  The film received an unprecedented five AFI nominations and won the major award for an Australian documentary at the 2002 Real Life on Film Festival.

In her twenties Stella Zammataro travelled and worked in South and South East Asia and formed a love for a part of the world that  features in many of the films she now produces.  Trafficked grew out of Zammataro’s abhorrence of the sex slavery she had witnessed during this time.  Stella was instrumental in securing victim of crime compensation from the NSW Attorney General’s Department for Jetsaporne Chaladlone, a thirteen year old Thai girl trafficked to a Sydney brothel.  This was an historic decision, the first recorded case in history of a slave receiving compensation.

In 2006 Stella returned to South East Asia for the third instalment in the East Timor series, Rosa’s Journey.  In 2008 Stella production co-ordinated the feature film Balbo.  It was the first foreign feature film to be shot in East Timor. In 2010, Stella’s determination to continue to tell the story of East Timor led to the formation of Fair-Trade Films.

Her next film project will be A Guerra Da Beatrice.  It has been co-written and will be co-directed and produced by East Timorese partners and will be East Timor’s first homegrown feature film.  It will lay the foundations for a future Timor-Leste film culture and industry.

Nick Calpakdjian – Film Editor

Nick Calpakdjian is currently researching and writing THE BEER DETECTIVE for Fair-Trade Films. He wrote and directed the 6-part series, PRO JUICE, for Animus Industries which has just been sold to ABC ivies.  He has edited TRAFFICKED – THE RECKONING for Fair-Trade Films.  He has worked in the film and television industry as an editor since 2000 where he began editing television factual series in Perth, Western Australia. Since relocating to Melbourne in 2002, Nick has worked as a Director of music videos, sports magazine television segments and Edited documentaries, drama and educational videos. Nick was recently nominated by the Australian Screen Editors Guild as “Best Non-Drama” Editor for his work on the factual Lifestyle Channel series, BILL’S HOLIDAY (Dir. Bruce Permacel).

Nick has edited two previous documentaries for Fair-Trade Films aka Abracadabra Films, SURVIVAL SCHOOL (ABC, 2007) and ROSA’S JOURNEY (SBS, 2008).

Trafficked – The Reckoning Premiere Screening at Bella Union – Level 1, Trades Hall Corner of Victoria & Lygon Streets Carlton South (enter off Lygon Street). Tuesday 13th September 2011. Doors open at 6.30pm film starts at 7.30pm  Tickets on sale @ Bella Union Includes a Q & A with the Filmmakers following the screening