In The Whistleblower, Rachel Weisz plays an American police woman who takes a contract job with the U.N. in Bosnia as an International Police Force monitor, and later uncovers a shocking scandal of human sex trafficking linked to the U.N.
The film is a riveting and stylish political thriller that exposes a scandal that shakes the very foundations of the peacekeeping organizations we’ve come to know and trust. While Wesiz gives a stunning and potentially award-winning performance, the film itself stands on its own as an eye-opening examination of the horrible reality faced by young women in Bosnia who are forced into the sex trafficking trade.
What’s even more shocking is that the film and Weisz’s character, Kathy Bolkavac are based on a true story. In early 2002, the real Bolkavac broke a story about the sex-trafficking trade in Bosnia, how many American contract police officers were involved in the business, and more disturbingly, how U.N. officials knew about their involvement and sought to cover it up.
The controversial story is tackled with the utmost affection and realism by first-time director Larysa Kondracki in The Whistleblower. Both Larysa Kondracki and Kathy Bolkovac, the real-life inspiration for the film, sat down with Meets Obsession to discuss the making of the film and the situation that inspired it.
Meets Obsession: The story the film is based on is so tremendous and shocking. When you first heard about Kathy’s story, did you immediately decide that you wanted to make a film out of it?
Larysa: Kondracki: I’m Ukranian-Canadian, so in that community people were talking about what was happening to these girls at a time when human sex trafficking was a word that wasn’t used that often. So I was reading about that and I felt compelled and interested to learn more about it. Then I heard about Kathy’s story, I was stupefied to learn that actual peacekeepers were involved. When I heard Kathy’s story—one woman taking down these massive organizations—State Department, the U.N., Governments—what’s not to be attracted to as a storyteller to that story? It’s a David and Goliath story, but it’s real.
MO: Why did you decide on making it a narrative feature instead of a documentary? It seems as though the story could of been translated as a documentary film as well.
LK: I think if it was a documentary you would have gotten a lot of facts, but you wouldn’t have learned about what really happened as effectively. When you have at your disposal, someone that went through this, I think it brings it down to such a human level, as opposed to being overwhelmed by facts and information.
Bottom line is, I don’t know how to make a documentary. I think they’re brilliant, they can be very entertaining and informative, but it just didn’t make sense for me to do that. I thought “here’s a woman whose story needs to be told.” It’s not just the whole issue at large, but Kathy’s journey.
Kathy Bolkovac: I was pretty involved in the beginning…when they came to me and started interviewing me, but I became less and less involved over the years as they developed the script. They would want my advice and opinions on how to do things, and you know, asking me questions like “when did this happened and when did that happened, tell me more about this thing”. But part of my thing is that I didn’t want my story told by just anybody.
I’ve been through a lot of trauma in my life as a police officer, both before I went to Bosnia and after. It was really important that they were truthful in fact-finding, and I think they did a great job of doing that. This is something that I’m glad we can finally bring to light and make some people accountable for- the State Department, the U.N., Government contractors—it’s a huge web of deceit that needs to be exposed.
MO: Larysa, I know that it took a while for you to get this film made, was that because of the controversial subject matter or trouble finding studios?
Larysa Kondracki: I thought the story was amazing and the script was good. I think the reason it took so long [to make] was because I wanted to direct it. [The script] made the agency rounds very quickly, they wanted to give it to other directors, and I was kind of stubborn about it and a little naive.
So we went to some studios and we’d have to turn around because they wanted to give it to other [directors]. Every time we’d turn away from a studio, there would be a few tears, but we thought “it’s going to be better this way.” I never thought [the film] wouldn’t get made, it was a question of when.
I read that you filmed on location in Romania. I imagine making a film like this was no easy feat. Can you talk a little bit about some of the hardships during production?
LK: We did film it in Romania, and it was really great. Everyone was there for the exact same reason—they wanted to be a part of this film. None of the actors took their full salaries, everyone took pay cuts, because they wanted to be there and they wanted to get this film made. I read somewhere, and it was a great piece of advice, that the biggest mistake a first-time director can make is thinking that they know what the hell they are doing.
So I said “get me the best people”—the most talented DP’s (Director of Photography), costume designers, everyone more experienced than me. They all wanted to tell this story. So, the scenes were difficult [to shoot], but we’re talking about artist who have come together to do something important.
It’s so invigorating and exciting to be able to do something like this. It was a lot of work, I think our shortest day was like 14 hours, but when you’re doing something you love, and on top of that, you think it could actually be good, it comes naturally.
LR: When we were shopping the script around, a few years back, one of our producers was working with her on The Constant Gardener and gave her the script. At the time she was pregnant and she couldn’t really do it. So over the years, there were different permutations about how the film was going to be made, but Rachel had kept the script and liked it. And when we were ready to make it, suddenly she was available and we were shooting within 9 months.
Let’s talk about the issue that this whole film is about, the atrocious reality of human trafficking. Kathy, I know this film is based on your experiences from 1999, has things changed since then?
KB: Speaking from the outside in, I’ve only seen press reports and what I read every day in the press, not a whole lot has changed as to what’s being done to stop it, but they have done a lot of public relations events and such.
Of course there are a lot of good-hearted, good-natured people working within the U.N. and other organizations who are trying to do something about it… But I think the effectiveness of those programs is not as they could and should be. I think that’s because the U.N. and those organizations don’t focus enough on getting real cops, real investigators to work on these cases, and until they do those numbers are never going to drop.
The Whistleblower opens today August 12, 2011 in select theatres. For tickets and showtimes, click here