Sprinkled across war-torn Bosnia are brothels and rape houses poorly disguised as restaurants, clubs, and hotels. Inside, underage Eastern European girls live in torment, forced to do “tricks” to pay off debts they have “incurred.”
Director Larysa Kondracki knew that she wanted her first movie to be about human trafficking, though she didn’t decide on the exact plot for the movie until she came across Kathryn Bolkovac’s story.
Bolkovac was an American police officer who served as a U.N. peacekeeper in Bosnia, where she discovered that 10 percent of her fellow peacekeepers were involved in the sex trafficking of underage Eastern European women.
“I came in as a naïve Midwestern cop wanting to do the right thing, wanting to bring justice to a lawless world, and I found lawlessness within my own ranks … in the end it was a real awakening for me,” said Bolkovac in the press notes for the new film “The Whistleblower.”
Bolkovac wrote in a report published by the Bosnian Institute that she had gone to a decaying nightclub to investigate her suspicions, a scene later recreated in the film.
Bolkovac discovered a significant amount of U.S. currency hidden in a metal gun box. It struck her that something was wrong. The only place to receive U.S. dollars in Bosnia was on American military bases.
The girls she spoke to in the club gave vague descriptions of international police officers, military men, and local police.
When these girls saw the men in blue uniforms from the U.N., they thought, “We have our savior,” only to be taken advantage of by their so-called saviors.
Bolkovac tried to help these girls, but there was only little she could do before the heavy bureaucracy she was up against shut her down. In the end, she was fired and her life was threatened.
“I packed everything I owned, including the evidence I’d collected over the last two years, and next morning I drove nonstop out of the country,” she said in the Bosnian Institute report.
Director Kondracki explained that Bolkovac’s story covered everything—the trafficking industry, what victims felt like, what the U.N. was doing, and how one lone woman made a difference.
Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz, who plays Bolkovac in the film, stated in the press notes that Bolkovac wasn’t thinking about morality when she blew the whistle on one of the biggest cover-ups of the U.N. “I think it’s just purely who she is. She is one of those people who cannot be anything other than who she is.”
Originally, Weisz had rejected the film offer. But years passed, and she remained haunted by the storyline.For her, Bolkovac is an ordinary woman who has done extraordinary things, a theme that Weisz looks for when choosing scripts.
Bolkovac asserted that Weisz was perfect for the role. “I see a lot of thoughtfulness in her, a lot of maturity.”
Filming was done in Bucharest, Romania, in the fall of 2009 with shots of Bosnia taken through the mountains of Transylvania.
Kondracki said in the press notes, “In a story such as this, it’s more about what you don’t see, so you need to create that world.” Filming in Eastern Europe was essential.
Breaking the ‘Abstract’
When people hear of human rights abuses and sex trafficking, they form in their minds an abstract idea of what is happening in some far-off country. No more, says Kondracki and co-writer Eilis Kirwan.
To put a face to the name, they’ve created Raya, played by Romanian actress Roxanna Condurache, someone audiences will get to know on a personal level.
Co-writer Kirwan stressed in the press notes that the audience must realize what these girls suffered. “It can’t stay abstract in anyone’s mind anymore.”
Bosnia isn’t the only country where human trafficking occurs.
The U.N. mission to Bosnia ended in 2002. Since then, the U.S. State Department has awarded DynCorp a $22 million dollar contract to police Iraq. DynCorp is the real-life company that contracted Bolkovac and other police into Bosnia. In the film, the name of the company is Democra.
U.N. peacekeepers on missions have reportedly committed sexual assaults and human rights violations in the Congo, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Guinea, Nigeria, Liberia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, Cambodia, Colombia, Sudan, Iraq, and Afghanistan, according to Bolkovac’s report.
“We have a system that works,” sneers the big-shot head of an NGO, Laura Leviani (Monica Bellucci), in the movie. “For who?” Bolkovac (Weisz) shoots back.
Kondracki wants her audience to know that atrocities are being committed.
“It’s actually much worse [than in the film] and it’s continuing to happen. We really need more people like Kathy [Bolkovac].”
“The Whistleblower” stars Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn, Monica Bellucci, Vanessa Redgrave, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Anna Anissimova, and Roxana Condurache. The film is rated R and runs at 118 minutes. It opens in theaters Friday August 5.