Los Angeles, California (The Hollywood Times) 12/20/2020 – Julia Verdin wrote and directed the feature film Angie: Lost Girls, set around the world of sex trafficking. The film is about the challenges trafficking survivor, sixteen-year-old Angie, faces with re-integrating with her family and reclaiming her self worth whilst combating ongoing threats to herself and loved ones from traffickers. The film stars Olivia d’Abo, Dylan Sprayberry, Antony Montgomery, Randolph Batinkoff, Jane Widdup, M.C. Lyte, and Amin Joseph. The film garnered attention on the festival circuit and won several awards including Best Social Impact film at The Culver City Film festival.
You wrote and directed the award-winning film, Angie: Lost Girls. Tell us about the film.
Sixteen-year-old Angie Morgan feels like her parents don’t understand her. After she is befriended by the charming and handsome Mario, everything seems to change for the better. He understands her desire to be a musician and promises to help her fulfill her dreams. However, her innocent, suburban life is upended when Mario lures her away to sell her to a local sex trafficking ring. After eventually escaping from the sex trafficking ring, Angie struggles to reconnect with herself and her family. There are many films with storylines on girls being trafficked but I also wanted to show the struggles survivors face in trying to get their lives back. Also for the family, the daughter that comes back after this ordeal is very different from the daughter they knew and their struggle to adapt to that.
Angie has survivor’s guilt about the girls still trapped with the traffickers, especially her friend Zoe who helped her escape. Her dilemma is if she can confront her own fears and become strong enough to save them? This film was a labor of love project. I wrote the script with Janet Odogwu Butters who had also worked on the short film with me. This film happened thanks to the generosity and support of so many people. Actually making the film was very exciting but at the same time scary. It was a story that I was passionate to bring to life and a topic that I believed from the bottom of my heart desperately needs awareness and action around, so it was really important to me to make a film that would do the subject justice and reach the right audience. I felt a lot of pressure because of all of that to do a good job!
At concept, I had to think very carefully about the audience I wanted for my film and gear the content accordingly. If I had gone for a very shocking, exploitive, gratuitous type of film then I would have attracted the male late-night audience and I wanted to make a film that communities, parents, and teenagers will watch and gain a better awareness of the signs to look out for and the ways traffickers operate. So when a stranger befriends them or offers them that “too good to be true job” or contacts them online they will be more careful and fully investigate and let friends and family know about it. This film has no nudity and I went with the Hitchcock approach of letting the audience’s imaginations do the work rather than being gratuitous. On a personal level, making a film about such a dark subject matter is hard. I remember one day when I had gone to a conference where a number of survivors told their stories as part of my research. I woke up the next day feeling really exhausted as if I had an emotional hangover from all the tragic stories I had heard. At the same time I knew that if I felt like that from just listening, I had to make this film in the hope it could help stop other teenagers from going through a horrific experience.
Why was it important for you to take on this project?
I hate abuse to children and so for me when I started to hear stories about child trafficking and the abuse the traffickers subjected their victims to-it just became one of those issues that I couldn’t look away from. I had previously directed a short “Lost Girls’ ‘ on the subject and that had done well and a lot of organizations had used it for education and as fundraising. I felt, even more, could be done with a feature film.
You have worked in the industry for over 30-years, why is social impact filmmaking so important given the current environment?
I think the film is such a powerful medium to effect change and get a conversation on an issue started. Right now, we have a lot of change needed in the world. The film Blood Diamond, for example, had such an effect, that it changed the way the public brought diamonds and also made sellers rethink their ethical practices. I hope that this film Angie: Lost Girls will help to raise awareness on child trafficking and get people to use their voices to say Times up on child trafficking. Donate or volunteer to organizations fighting the issue or supporting survivors. Keep their eyes open and if they see something suspicious, report it.
Angie: Lost Girls is a powerful depiction of the realities of human trafficking. Why is this film so critical today? What are the warning signs for parents and the public?
Child trafficking has now become the second-largest criminal activity in America and is a billion-dollar business. The younger the child, the more money they make. If a child or teenager is trafficked and lucky enough to be rescued, it can take years to recover from that trauma. The more that can be done in educating families and teenagers, the more chance we have of keeping them safe. Education leads to prevention. If a child or a parent or someone working with teenagers can recognize the signs of someone being groomed by a trafficker – and reports it, a child could be saved.
Signs to look out for include – possession of expensive items that they could not afford, secretive behavior, evidence of a new relationship with someone outside a known group of friends, missing school, evidence of controlling or dominating relationships, any visible bruising, suspicious tattoos or branding. Monitoring internet activity for any strange or inappropriate messages.
What was the most difficult scene emotionally for you as a Director?
With this film, a lot of the scenes were challenging emotionally. As I had a lot of young actors in the film, I had to be very careful to maintain a very safe atmosphere on set and keep checking that all were ok and give lots of hugs. The first time Angie is trafficked was a tough scene, seeing her innocent and excited face as she goes off to meet the “music Producer” then the fear when she realizes what is about to happen was hard to watch. The scene when the parents come to the hospital to see their daughter again after she has escaped and their pain on seeing their broken child was heartbreaking. When we were filming it, I and all the people watching on the monitor with me had tears in their eyes and many were just sobbing.
The film was broadcast as part of an educational program on sex trafficking. Where can we find it?
That was actually my previous short film Lost Girls. It was broadcast on KNXT with an educational panel with experts after. That film is now available on Amazon, it is also in libraries and available on Canopy for colleges. I also have DVDs and links available for organizations that would like to use them.
In partnership with Swig Media The film Angie: Lost Girls is hosting a special virtual live stream screening on December 20th, 2020 with a cast Q+A after. https://freestyle.swigit.com/liveevent/angielostgirls
You are the Founder of Artists for Change. Tell us about your important work. How can we join you?
People can be kept informed of our activities by signing up to the mailing list on the website – https://www.artists4change.org/We used to have monthly awareness mixers pre covid but now will be doing some virtual events until it is safe to have in-person get-togethers again. We are always looking for volunteers to help on various media projects and also to help on the educational side. People can email us via the website. https://www.artists4change.org/
What documentaries can we expect in 2021?
I am currently working on finishing up an educational companion documentary type piece on trafficking to go with the film. The idea is to engage via the narrative film and then follow up with a more educational piece. The pandemic has made all more challenging but I hope to have something finished by January for trafficking awareness month.
Aside from that, I am mostly focusing on narrative films on social issues. I think that people often go and see a documentary if they are already interested in the subject matter, but in my humble opinion, a narrative film with a good compelling story has the ability to engage and get people interested and caring about an issue.
I am also working on another film on child trafficking, this time focusing on the Stockholm syndrome/trauma bond issue that often happens between victims and their traffickers. I also have another film I plan to direct about honor killings and I am in early development on projects on the homeless crisis and Obesity.
Share your upcoming projects.
We are planning to do some other events for trafficking awareness month in January. I am also in talks with the long beach trafficking task force about doing a screening of this film and also creating other educational media for an upcoming youth symposium. They are a wonderful group of very passionate individuals that are doing great work. We are also involved in helping with the SEE It. END IT. a virtual film and arts festival to end human trafficking, which will be showcasing our film as well as several other films, art and music, and panels with experts to raise awareness on trafficking.
On a lighter note, I do also have a very cute family film about a girl and a dancing dog that I am also working on. It does have an inspirational message to it.
For me at this point in my career, I have decided that I really want to put my time and energy into films that can be of service and do the little bit that I can help to create a better world for all. I certainly can’t do it alone and so am very grateful for all that have come on the journey so far and am excited to continue to expand. I highly recommend social impact filmmaking and feel very blessed for all the wonderful and passionate people doing amazing work rescuing children off the streets, working with survivors, the professionals volunteering and donating services to help those in need. They are the real heroes and have given me so much inspiration.
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/julia.verdin