Our staff writer Krisna Kay went on a special assignment. With personal invite from
the stars and filmmaker, she flew from Washington State to New York City to attend the
Red Carpet World Premiere of the highly anticipated documented film REDLIGHT.
After the premiere she had a one on one exclusive interview with
the fearless filmmaker GUY JACOBSON, who ( literally )
puts his life on the line to show you the truth.
The reality of human trafficking, and child sexploitation.
G U Y J A C O B S O N
interviewed b y : K R I S N A K A Y
0 7 / 0 7 / 1 0
After traveling to New York for the premiere of the documentary, REDLIGHT ( www.redlightthemovie.com ), I got a chance to sit down and chat with Guy Jacobson, the film’s director. Jacobson works as an attorney, an investment banker, owner of a film production company called Priority Films, and founder of a nonprofit organization called Redlight Children. REDLIGHT is the highly anticipated second installment of a three-part series of films about child sexploitation, an issue that affects over 2.5 million children worldwide. Jacobson had personally encountered the issue while he was traveling through Cambodia, and thus decided to return to the country to film the series.
Upon entering his cozy Manhattan apartment, I was warmly greeted by his friends, fundraising interns, and of course, Jacobson himself, who immediately offered me wine and imported chocolates to nibble on while I waited for them to finish up their work. As I made myself comfortable on his sofa and looked around at his walls adorned with art from his travels abroad, three things became apparent to me: 1) he is really nice to people, 2) he has done a lot of cool stuff, and 3) he is someone who seizes unexpected opportunities to help others. He never planned to start Redlight Children, to film movies in Cambodia, or to do any of his work, but by seizing the opportunities to do so, he has made a tremendous impact for victims of sex slavery worldwide. My eyes were truly opened by Jacobson’s experiences, by his ideas on child sex trafficking, and by what I learned about him in this interview.
K: Congratulations on pulling off the successful world premiere of REDLIGHT! And thanks for letting me attend. I left the theater inspired by the stories of courage and hope that each of the documentary subjects told. How do you feel the event went?
G: I think it went very well. It was a challenging event, logistically, because we had to do the first screening, with the red carpet part and everything, and the Q&A panel, and then the second screening immediately after, and then there was a reception after the first showing and an after party…It was crazy, even for us, but we had a great team pulling it off, and it went well.
K: What kinds of reviews have you heard about it so far?
G: People seemed to like it. It has only had one screening, which was two days ago, but everyone, including the critics have been very generous so far.
m u j e s t i c : K r i s n a K a y. w/ G u y J a c o b s o n.
R E D L I G H T Red Carpet World Premiere N Y C 0 6 / 2 1 / 1 0
P r e s s T v . i r : c r i t i c s r e v i e w o f R E D L I G H T
K: It’s clear that REDLIGHT is going to bring some much-needed awareness to the problem of child sex slavery, especially in Cambodia. How did you get involved with this project?
G: About a decade ago, I left my job as an attorney and an investment banker in New York and decided to start my own film company. During that transition, I wanted to finish writing some screenplays…(so) I went on a sabbatical for two years just to travel.
One of the many places I visited was Cambodia. In early 2002, while being a tourist in Cambodia, I found myself surrounded by about fifteen little girls, like five, six, seven-year-olds, who were very aggressively soliciting me for prostitution. You know, hands headed straight to my private areas, and I had to keep pushing their hands away and telling them, ‘No touching!’ And one of the girls told me in broken English, ‘I yum yum very good. I no money today. Mama-san boxing me.’ I was quite horrified, and I gave them some money so that they wouldn’t get beaten up, and I walked away. So this is how I got involved with the problem. I said I have to do something about this issue, but at the time I didn’t really know what to do. So I started to research about child prostitution to figure out what I could do. And I was horrified to find out what I was seeing in Cambodia was not at all an isolated case unique to Cambodia. I discovered it is a worldwide epidemic that affects over 2.5 million kids, some younger than one years old, in every country in every city, big or small, all over the world. I’m like, how is it possible that I didn’t know? I consider myself slightly educated, I’m not a complete idiot, and if I didn’t know, I would think most people are like me and don’t know. And I thought if people could see these five, six, seven-year-old girls and they knew they were being used as sex slaves in brothels, people would be shocked and concerned and want to do something about it.
The problem is not just in Cambodia—did you know there is a brothel right here on this block with sex slaves? We are speaking about something that has an impact the magnitude of a holocaust. I’m Israeli—I don’t take this word lightly. I mean, 2.5 million kids, that’s like what the Khmer Rouge did in Cambodia when they wiped out like half the population. Just because those kids are spread all over the world and not in one region doesn’t make it not a genocide. Since I have a film production and distribution company, I can (use it to) raise awareness about this issue. So we decided to shoot these three films about human trafficking, on location in Cambodia. We started with HOLLY.
K: HOLLY gained tremendous recognition in the film community, as well as the international human rights community and the press. It was so impactful that it there was a special showing of it at the United Nations Vienna Forum to Fight Human Trafficking, and it has been used a standard medium to raise awareness about sex trafficking! Can you give a brief synopsis of the film?
G: HOLLY is the story of a twelve-year-old Vietnamese girl kidnapped for child prostitution and smuggled across the border to Cambodia. When I wrote the script for HOLLY, I had an idea about the legal issues, statistics, facts, and blah blah blah, but now I wanted to tell the story of the girl. I needed to learn what she thinks, what she sees, what she has in her body, what her life is like at night in the brothels, and what happens to her. I didn’t want to make it about cliché issues…I didn’t want it to be (as if) someone read some articles about it and now they think they are an expert on it…I mean, I may have done that if the film was simply for entertainment purposes, but for a film with this kind of subject matter, you need to be much more sensitive and thorough. So I went undercover to the brothels in Cambodia to cover the story and check it out for myself. I spent morning til night with the pimps, the kids, the clients.
K: While you were undercover, did you feel you were in danger?
G: At the time, I didn’t realize how dangerous it was. I was really reckless. Like, one day, when I was taking pictures inside a small brothel, the flash of my camera went off and they would have killed me if they noticed. Luckily, nobody knew what was going on. Then, about six months later, NBC came to do an exposé at the same brothel that I was undercover at, and the pimps suspected the undercover NBC guy wasn’t really a client. So they put a gun to his head and said, ‘Either you sleep with this girl right now or we’re going to kill you.’ And I’m there with no-back-up, nobody knows where I am. So it’s lucky that nothing happened to me. And just as I was arriving in Cambodia, I get a call on my cell phone from the Interpol saying, ‘Guy, you are insane! You are in the most dangerous place in the world, making a movie about a dangerous subject matter, human trafficking and child sexploitation. You’re going to die. Get the fuck out of Cambodia!’ That was a quote from them. I don’t scare easily, so I said no. They said, ‘No, you don’t understand. We know from our informants that there are already contracts on your life. You and all those involved with the film by the Vietnamese mafia, by the Chinese mafia, by the Cambodian mafia. They’re going to kill you.’ We still didn’t leave, but we hired an entire army of bodyguards. So just to shoot this movie, I had over 40 bodyguards, all armed with automatic machine guns. It seemed completely, completely insane! To shoot a movie and need an army to protect you. I can seriously say it was very stupid of me.
K: That’s great that you, your team, and your documentary subjects were safe during the filming. But what about now? Are the Cambodian children who helped you still protected? I worry that giving such explicit testimonies might anger the people who took advantage of them and make the children targets again.
G: The only two that are in danger are Sochua ( musochua.org ) and Somaly (www.somaly.org ). One of the reason they are still alive is because film such as this. It help expose them because now that their work has been reported, if something were to happen to them it would cause a dramatic amount of problems (for anyone wanting to hurt them).
K: What about the children?
G: They are not in danger. We don’t put them in a position where they would have people after them. And because they told their stories and helped us to expose what happened to them, it was easier for us to rescue them from the brothels and get them to safety…It will keep them out of the brothels.
K: How was the transition from being a lawyer and investment banker to being a filmmaker and full-time philanthropist?
G: I always fought for human rights issues, (even) before when I was an attorney and when I worked in banking. So I said, ‘Ok, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before by having my own film production company.’ Running a film company and a human rights organization still incorporates facets of business, finance, law, writing contracts, management, etc., etc., etc. As for human rights, again, it is not the first time I got involved with it. I got the M.L.K. Social Leaders Award for social issues when I was like 24 or 25, so it wasn’t a stretch, you see. And having a background in all of those areas allowed me to see a new way to approach the issue. With Redlight Children, we’ve come up with a cutting edge blueprint on how to decrease the problem.
K: For people who want to help, how can they do so?
G: The first step they can do to help is to become more aware of the issue and that can be done by seeing the film. The easiest thing people can do to help is to go to www.redlightchildren.org and say, ‘I will donate 1 pizza a month. I will donate $25 a month and eat 1 pizza less and take that money to allow these people to go and do their work.’ Most people cannot go on the ground and help. I definitely discourage people from saying, ‘Oh, let me raid the local brothel and save a bunch of kids.’ You will get killed! Hence, what is left is to donate. With this issue, to be quite honest, unlike most issues in reality, the best way to help is to find an organization that is doing great work and donate money to them. This is because there is not a fast button that you can push to solve the problem. But there are other ways to get involved, too. Like, you can buy one copy of the DVD, HOLLY, from PriorityFilms.com and show it to your community. Do what makes sense. If you want to help a little bit, the best thing to do is to donate, and that is a huge help. But there are individuals who think they have certain connections, certain skills, certain passions, who will want to help out more, and they can figure out a way to put that to use.
K: How are you planning to distribute to movie?
G: We are very close to finalizing a deal to show it on a major cable televison…We plan to release it in a way in which we show it in specific cities and we do it event-wise with a Q&A with various local organizations and media. (We don’t want to) just show it in the theaters and hope people will somehow hear about it. We don’t have the money to advertise, but also we don’t want people to see the movie and not have that part of the conversation, the Q&A and the explanation as to what can be done to fight the problem. Not just have them say, ‘Ok this is horrible, then what? So we are partnering with LexisNexis and with various other organizations to go to certain major cities and do event screenings first, such as Toronto, Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, Boston, and other major cities, and have a Q&A afterward. And then we will think of other ways to do it for everybody else.
K: What is the Redlight Children organization and how will it eradicate child sex slavery?
( www.redlightchildren.org )
G: Because of my background, coming from law and economics, the way I see things is quite different. And what became apparent to me as I was researching and trying to understand this issue, was that the overwhelming majority of organizations work only to help the victims. And while this is crucial, mandatory, beyond necessary, the one thing that helping the victim doesn’t do is decrease the problem. In fact, in many cases it may increase the problem. The problem is not the victims, the victims are the result of the problem. The problem is the people going after those victims, but there is nothing being done to the perpetrators, or the people who are paying money to download child pornography, or the people who go to the brothels, whether it’s in Cambodia or New York…They are the problem. Now, I don’t know how to stop hurricanes or to achieve peace in the Middle East. They’ve been fighting for hundreds of years, they will continue to fight.
Afghanistan, same thing. Seriously, I have zero idea of what can be done. I do know how to sabotage a business. This crime, organized crime, makes 32-35 billion dollars a year selling people. Well, I know how to sabotage Starbucks as a business, I know how to sabotage Microsoft as a business (for example) and I also know how to sabotage a brothel as a business. If you go after their clients—well do you know any business who doesn’t have clients? I don’t. So any business that you sabotage the clients, you can actually start decreasing systematically the scope of business. I don’t think there’s a way to eradicate child sexploitation. I wish there was, nothing would make me happier than if there was. But if you don’t do the things that are realistic, you may forgo doing the things that would decrease the problem. And so why don’t we go after the actual clients, the ones that are bringing in money? Why don’t we deter them, make it more expensive, make the punishment harsher, find various practical ways to go after the clients. And what Redlight Children did was create a very comprehensive group of action items as to how to decrease the demand systematically…Again, think about 2.5 million children worldwide, if it was a tiny percentage less, 5% of 2.5 million is 125,000 kids, still a lot of kids saved! There are a variety of ways of doing that.
The situation is not caused by poverty. Actually, it’s counterintuitive. If you fight poverty, you’re going to increase the number people with money and not stop child sexploitation. You cannot protect everyone from being poor. That’s not humanly possible. Since you came up to my apartment, how many kids were born worldwide? Hundreds of thousands. How do you protect all of those children that were born in the last hour? All over the world, from everything? Is it possible? So let’s say you and I walk in a dark alley at night in New York City. Which one of us is more likely to get mugged? You. Okay, so I say that the solution to stop muggings in New York is to stop young Cambodian girls from walking in the streets and that’s the cause of the problem. And you say, ‘No I am the victim. I’m not the cause of the problem. Somebody mugged me.’ That’s the same thing with sexploitation. Many organizations look at the victim and see that they are poor and conclude that the cause is poverty because they are poor kids. But no, because of poverty they are more vulnerable to this particular crime, just like how you are more likely to get mugged in the street…So for each crime there are people that are more vulnerable to it. There’s a lot of confusion on this issue as to what are the determining and contributing factors who will be the victims and what are the causes of the problem. For me, because I’m coming from a completely different background I see that those organizations are only helping the victims, which must be done (but is not the whole answer).
You know what all those organizations must have in order to do their work? Victims. And I think, wait a minute, why do we want more victims? So let’s say I raided a brothel and I take the hundred kids out of the brothel and put them in Somaly’s shelter.( www.somaly.org ) The next morning, organized crime and corrupted officials, who owns the biggest brothels in Cambodia, visits the brothels in Cambodia and says, ‘Oh shit, Guy came and took all of the kids.’ (Maybe they’ll say) ‘Let’s close the brothels and open a pottery shop.’ Or maybe they’re going to say, ‘You, you, and you with the big guns, go grab some new kids.’ Which one do you think will happen? Yes, the latter. They will grab a hundred new kids to fill the brothel, and there will be a hundred kids in the shelter. We just doubled the problem. Then I go in and take those hundred kids and put them in the shelter. The next day I have a hundred new kids in the brothel, and two hundred kids in the shelter. Its a multi-billion dollar business, and they are sitting on a multi-million dollar operation, they're not just going to just shut it down. The kids can easily be replaced. The shelter doesn’t have money to feed them, clothe them, educate them, and so then the shelter collapses, and we have three hundred kids that have been victimized and no resources for them. Did we decrease the problem? No. And that’s what is being continually done and it doesn’t make any sense.
If I go after the clients of these brothels, and there’s 10% less clients, the brothels will say, ‘We don’t need all of these kids, and with less money coming in, how will we feed all of these kids?’ If there are less clients, there is less demand. If you go to the store and a product is not selling do they start increasing the amount of that product or decreasing it? Decreasing. The kids are a product. Decreasing demand is the only way of decreasing the victims, the only practical way of decreasing the victims. So what we created is a variety of practical ways, way beyond the scope of this interview, I could teach a whole class about it, of doing so. Look, you are from Seattle, how many people walk into the Starbucks that you go to every day? Hundreds. Thousands. If there was a policeman who stood in front of the store and said everyone who goes into the store is going to get a $100 fine, you think it would decrease the number people who walk in? OK, how much is a cup of coffee in Seattle? Three or four dollars? If it was five, would it decrease the number people going to it? Not eradicate it, but decrease it by a little bit? What if he said, out of the 1,000 people that go into this Starbucks a day, one person is going to get $1 million fine that you’ll have to pay for the rest of your life. You think that will decrease the number of people going into that Starbucks? Okay so what is the difference between a Starbucks and a brothel? If I can do it to Starbucks, can I not do it to brothels? It is a very simple proposition. To cause walking into a brothel to be more dangerous, or risky, with more penalties, more likely to be caught, more likely to be prosecuted. There will be less people walking into brothels if everyone knew there was a million dollar fine and that they would be in trouble with the law and with their community for their crimes.
K: Mu Sochua is facing the possibility of going to jail in Cambodia for speaking out against Hun Sen. Will you use your power as an attorney to help defend her?
*( our interview with Mu Sochua www.mujestic.com/mu_sochua
*( Support Mu Sochua : Stop Suppression of Speech in Cambodia www.petitiononline.com/musochua/petition.html )
G: Well, I cannot do much in Cambodia because they still have contracts on my life. If I go back, the government will do to me what they want to do to her. With the military, with the government, with organized crime, with the police, I am not their favorite because I am sabotaging their business. I’m not viewed in a favorable light, as you can imagine. So, as an attorney, there’s nothing I can specifically do in Cambodia. But the thing that we can do and have been doing is exposing Sochua’s fight and her situation within the press and major organizations and law firms that we work with. It really helps protect her. If everyone knows and pays attention to what is going to happen to her in Cambodia, the government has much more of a problem if it were to abuse her or to abuse the system, because the international community knows about it. So as an attorney, I cannot to do too much except to mobilize the press, international community, major organizations and law firms, human rights organizations, to help to support and protect her.
K: There are few questions that we ask in all of our interviews. What are seven things that you would put into a time capsule?
G: I would have to think about that more in depth, but if you haven’t figured it out I’m extremely practical. You can see that with what Redlight Children does. And I cannot be that concerned with the future. If I were that concerned I probably wouldn’t do a lot of the things I do. So I would rather think about what are the seven things that I could do today to make me happy today.
K: What are seven words to describe yourself?
G: Pain-in-the-ass, smart-ass, big-ass, hard-ass…just kidding! Practical…I don’t really know…I do whatever I want, I try to live in a particular way, to protect my own course, meaning I don’t really care what other people say, I can make my decisions and live my life the way that makes sense to me.
K: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
G: Ten years? I know I’m going to dinner in half an hour, I have an interview tomorrow at 11:00 AM, I got invited to the premiere of Toy Story 3 tomorrow and I was thinking about going to that, what else? Ten years? The thing is, I concentrate on the things I can do now. I have no idea where I will be in ten years. I mean, I ran into this issue eight years ago and I didn’t plan that. Even now, I didn’t plan that one day I would run a human rights organization…I think that in life you end up doing more when you plan less. You just take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. And I don’t know what opportunities will present themselves over the next decade that might lead to things that I’ll enjoy doing. If you worry and try to plan those things a decade from now, you tend to miss all of the things that happen right now. If you look ten years from now and think, ‘There is the best place,’ you might miss out on opportunities that might show you, ‘Maybe over there might be better. As in my case, I didn’t know that I would be doing what I’m doing, and I didn’t have to plan ten years ago to accomplish them or to like doing them more. Not a lot of people will do that, take advantage of opportunities that come about.
K: The staff at Mujestic is currently working on a film called the Bassac Project, and is currently halfway done with it. The bassac is a slum village in Phnom Penh, and the film is about the issue of land-grabbing, in which the government and rich people in Cambodia are able to take the land from the poorer people who currently live on it and force-evict them from their homes in order to build tourist attractions and shopping centers. What do you think about this issue? Do you think it will be better for the development of Cambodia, or do you think it will just lead to more poverty, corruption, human trafficking, etc. and keep the nation weak?
G: I’m not a big fan of the Cambodian government to begin with, and I’m sure they’re not big fans of mine, either. But I’m a huge fan of the Cambodian people. Huge fan of the Cambodian people. I fell in love with the Cambodian people when I was traveling through the country. They had been through such horrible things over the last twenty-four years and yet they were always smiling, always so generous, so friendly. So I think it’s very unfortunate that they have been wronged by their own government and their own people for such a long time. It’s very unfortunate that Cambodia still has a dictatorship…without the freedoms of a real democracy…that still takes advantage of some of the nicest people in the world that have no ability to take a stand for themselves. I think it’s very unfortunate and very sad that we as individuals, we as an international community, we as anybody who cares about human rights of others, allow that to happen in Cambodia and to happen in many other countries in the world. I am always against it when people are being abused and taken advantage of by people who are more powerful than them or have more authority. There is a saying, ‘When the Nazis came to take the Protestants, I didn’t object because I wasn’t Protestant. When the Nazis came to take the Catholics, they didn’t object because I wasn’t Catholic. When the Nazis came to take the Jews, I didn’t object because I wasn’t Jewish. When the Nazis came to take me, there was nobody left to object.’ You must take the stand for others. You can’t only be worried about your people, your issues, your government. There are things that I can take a stand and make an impact on, such as this particular issue, and so I should do that. Other issues, I don’t know how to change. But Redlight Children is something I do know.
copyrighted* ( www.mujestic.com/guy_jacobson ) 07/07/10