Sunday, April 6, 2008

Writer/Director Dee McLachlan talks to the Agence French Presse...


Crime thriller puts Asian sex slavery on agenda in Australia


by Neil Sands

A hard-hitting thriller about the exploitation of Asian sex slaves in Australia has won critical acclaim and revived the career of its creator, a one-time Disney director who has pursued her own doggedly independent path since undergoing a sex-change operation.
"The Jammed" shines a spotlight on a seedy Melbourne underworld where gangsters force young women, mainly from Southeast Asia, to work in brothels and keep them locked up when not servicing clients.
The film has been hailed by critics as the best Australian thriller for years, with The Age newspaper describing it as "a shock of electricity that restores one's faith in just how good Australian social-realist films can be".
It has also been adopted by welfare groups as a way to focus the attention of politicans in Canberra on the issue of sex slavery and was screened in Vienna last month at a UN conference on human trafficking.
South African-born director Dee McLachlan said she decided to make the confronting film after being shocked at the lack of action against sex slavery in Australia.
"It fascinated me that this stuff was actually going on in Melbourne and everyone was so blase about it," Mclachlan told AFP.
She based her script on transcripts of real court cases but decided to film a thriller, rather than a documentary, because she felt the issue supported a strong narrative.
"The Jammed" tells the story of an Australian woman trying to help a Chinese mother who is desperately searching for a daughter missing in Melbourne's underworld.
McLachlan said she deliberately set out to provoke a reaction from viewers and had succeeded beyond her wildest expectations.
"Some reviewers said it was like a bucket of cold water being thrown over the audience," she said.
McLachlan's interest in the issue was initially sparked by a newspaper story.
"A little article appeared about this guy, a respected businessman, who had held 20-40 Thai girls locked up in a fancy suburb of Melbourne," she told AFP.
"A girl jumped out the window onto a tree and escaped, so they cut down the tree so that no more girls could get out.
"That got the local council involved because it breached planning rules -- it was like the tree was more important than the girls: Break the tree laws and you get into trouble but break human rights and nothing happens.
"This wasn't even on the front page of the newspaper, it was buried at the back," she said.
McLachlan said the businessman was eventually convicted for his role in the sex slave ring but received only a suspended sentence and a 31,000 dollar (28,800 US) fine, even though he made millions from the scheme.
She said she wanted to chronicle the official indifference to sex slaves in "The Jammed," which takes its name from the dilemma facing women who must either work as prostitutes or face almost certain deportation if they complain to authorities.
"There's a great lack of will to sort out the problem and I think a lot of that is actually racist," she said. "It's an attitude from white Australians in authority that 'well, these girls are not important, we can just deport them'."
The women's support group Project Respect estimates more than 1,000 women are being held as sex slaves in Australia at any one time.
It says they are lured from impoverished areas of countries such as Thailand and China with promises of work then told once they arrive that they have a huge debt to pay off and must prostitute themselves.
"The Jammed" marks a radical departure for McLachlan, whose last credit as a director was as Duncan McLachlan in 1997 for "The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli and Baloo".
Her early work on wildlife documentaries in Africa helped her break into Hollywood with animal-related features, although she says the projects she worked on at the time were just a way to earn a living.
"From day one on some of these projects I thought 'I'm on a losing wicket, the script is absolutely horrendous' but you've got to do the best you can," she said.
Then came the sex change and the decision to move to Australia seven years ago to forge a career as a female director with few contacts in the close-knit local film industry.
"I had to launch my career again," she said. "It was a real chore because my previous credits weren't really counted, it didn't count for much."
The director's next project promises to be just as controversial -- a surreal comedy about the US intelligence services' practice of "extraordinary rendition" of terror suspects.
"There's quite a lot of comedy in it, so it's a tough mix," she said. "Again, it doesn't tick the boxes.
"When you explain it to the more traditional companies they don't know what to make of it but 'The Jammed' has given us a foot in the door with audiences."


Images
Australian director Dee McLachlan poses as her newly released film, "The Jammed" a hard-hitting thriller about the exploitation of Asian sex slaves in Australia wins critical acclaim and revives the career of its creator. © 2007 AFP William West



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