“In early 2002 I was on a sabbatical traveling around the world for a year and I was walking around the streets of Cambodia in the middle of the day and I suddenly found myself surrounded by a group of like 15 little girls about yea high, 5-, 6-year old little girls who were very aggressively soliciting me for prostitution,” Guy Jacobson, the producer/co-writer of “Holly” told a Smith Rafael audience last year during the Mill Valley Film Festival. “Hands straight for the crotch, nothing subtle, and I’m saying no touching. One of the little girls says to me in broken English ‘I yum-yum very good.’ When I said, ‘No,’ she said ‘I no money mamasan boxing me’ meaning the Madame of the brothel will beat her up. I gave her some money and I walked away but I said I have to do something about it.” SF360.org correspondent Jennifer Young was there to pick up the audience Q&A session, which we’re sharing as “Holly” plays Bay Area theaters this week.
Producer/Co-writer Guy Jacobson (continues): I spent a couple of years researching the subject matter and I was horrified to find out that not only was this not an isolated case but there were over two million cases some younger than one year old worldwide who were sold into sexual slavery every single year and that includes Marin Country, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, London, Berlin. It’s not all in the third world. People think it’s not in their back yard and they’re right it’s actually in their living room. People don’t know that 20 percent of American kids who go on the Internet get solicited by pedophiles. When I came across this horrible statistic, now you can tell by my accent I was born in Mississippi. [Audience laughs.] But being actually from Israel originally, you can imagine I’ll not use the following word lightly; there’s actually a holocaust happening right now everywhere in the world but because it is only a few children in each city, big or small, all over the world, in every country, in every city of the world, it doesn’t rise to the level that it should.
It became a personal issue for me because you know those little girls were grabbing my private parts. Now I’m single; I don’t have kids; I don’t have nephews or nieces. The closest I’ll ever get to being trafficked is if somebody wants to traffic my wine collection. But it still became personal and I decided I could use live mass media to try to bring awareness to this subject matter. The first of three films which we shot on this subject is ‘Holly’ which you are seeing today and what we hoped to achieve while working on it was not only exposing a tiny bit of the issue and making it personal to all of you so that hopefully this girl would grab some of you but to do it also by telling a very compelling story and movie.
Audience: I noticed you shot in a lot of landmark locations in Phnom Penh. Did you get a lot of support from the Cambodian government or from the people? What was the relationship like?
Director/Co-writer Guy Moshe: We basically can’t go back there ever again. Some points in the film we were threatened with lawsuits, jail. We had to have armed guards. We didn’t get any support. The way to make a film was — it’s very peculiar and it’s very sad actually ‘cause the first thing that happens when you go to Cambodia is you fall in love with the country and you fall in love with the people. You feel like you want to do everything in your power to make this country a better place and once you start working with the administration with the system there with the authorities you learn the word ‘corruption’ doesn’t really exist in their vocabulary. It’s basically how things work. You don’t receive support, you buy support. And you can buy everybody so that’s what you have to do and sometimes you have to align yourself with some of the same people you’re trying to get out of power. They don’t even care as long as you pay them in cash. That’s basically how you get to do all these things in Cambodia and it’s sad but it’s the truth.
Jacobson: Basically a few days after we got to Cambodia we got a call from Interpol saying you guys are completely insane. You’re in the most dangerous place in the world to try to do a film about this subject matter. You’re all going to die. You better get the hell out right now. So as you already know I’m Israeli so I’m not good at listening. [Audience giggles.] And I said, ‘No.’ And they said ‘No, no you don’t understand we know from our informants there are already contracts on your lives by the Chinese mafia, the Vietnamese mafia and the Cambodian mafia. Leave.’ And we ended up with an entire army of bodyguards including we actually hired some of the Prime Minister’s own body guards in their uniforms because nobody will mess with them, and it was a war to make it every single day, it really was a war.
Moshe: We had no permits. There was no way for us to get a permit for this movie. And funnily enough it was a situation where the royal family, the administration, the mafia and the police were against us but then we had alignments with a couple of people in each one of these places that needed the money that we could pay them which wasn’t much and they made sure that we could go in between the drop usually at triple the price that they promised to do this for. So it was a funny situation it was really surreal there. And we never saw dailies we had to smuggle the film out of Thailand. Unfortunately if you go to Phnom Penh now and you talk about our film, we gave jobs to so many people that needed jobs and that needed the money, and we tried to respect the country and the culture as much as possible but when you leave this place it’s all left behind. I’m sure they’re not speaking highly of us there now is all I’m saying. You can’t avoid that. It’s just sad.
Audience: How was the American cast selected?
Moshe: Basically we had a very small budget actually and we didn’t even think to get any actor that had any name. When we finished the script about two months before we were supposed to start shooting we sent it out through the casting director to a couple of agencies and we were surprised to see the names that were interested in taking a look at it. Fortunately enough Ron Livingston was one of the actors who actually read the script and expressed interest in meeting me in L.A. When I came to the meeting I knew his work. I had seen ‘Band of Brothers’ and he’s doing a lot of comedic roles but I actually think he’s a great dramatic actor and he did a particular thing in ‘Band of Brothers,’ and being an Israeli as well, I have some background in military and I found there was a lot of truism to his performance in ‘Band of Brothers’ that I really admired. When I met him there was this instant thing and I knew this was the guy I had been looking for and I think he felt the same.
With Chris Penn it was a bit of a different story. We had Tom Sizemore in the role and he came to us and he wanted to do it and I liked his work then about a week before he was supposed to shoot his scenes he […]. [Ed. note: Sizemore had to drop out.] We were faced with the situation where we had to recast the role within a week from Cambodia while shooting. There are no phones in Cambodia. A cell phone works half of the day. And we’re shooting every day. So the first thing I did was go to Ron and we started talking about it because I was trying to think who can I get that has the same quality? And we both decided to think about it after throwing a few names out there. And I went to bed and he went to bed and the next morning we simultaneously said Chris Penn. We started calling America to try and find him and after a few days we found out he read the script, he liked the script but he didn’t want to do it. Apparently he had all these huge monologues to do and he said he’s not going to be ready in the short amount of time. I said listen I’m working with people who have never seen a film camera in their lives, I don’t speak their language and I manage to get a performance out of them. I think I can manage it just send him over here. Chris came off the plane reading a book about child sex trafficking. He was really proud of the fact that we were trying do something good with the film. I can say for the entire cast and crew this is a true labor of love. There’s nobody that worked with us on this movie that didn’t care and put an extra amount of effort to try and make this happen.
Audience: What organization could you be involved in to help give money to help?
Jacobson: We in conjunction with the film, well with the three films there are actually two more which were shot; the full picture documentary from the point of view of the victims and held undercover with cameras and espionage equipment and buttons and glasses and that will come out in a couple of months and also a behind-the-scenes documentary. But we also decided to launch a massive global human rights campaign that is called redlightchildren.org that the first tiny part of it is online that meant not only to compliment the films in raising awareness for the issue but is meant to promote specific action items to help decrease the size of 2.5 million kids. In my previous life, I’m actually an attorney investment banker. I went to school down the block at Berkeley. Imagine the chagrin of my Jewish mother of quitting the law and becoming a filmmaker. She’s wearing black ever since. [Aud laughs.] But the redlight children campaign has massive support from numerous organizations from all over the world.
It’s meant to promote specific legislation, better enforcement of current and new legislation, and better allocation of resources to decrease the demand of any form of child sexploitation. Because the only way to really decrease the problem is to really decrease the demand. If nobody wants to buy this ugly shirt nobody will make it.
SF360: Where is this film going?
Jacobson: From here to Pusan in Asia. To Hamptons — it’s in the competition. To San Paolo. To Hawaii. Big festivals are fighting to get it. We’ve actually been very lucky as the response has been insane. It’s the U.S. premiere. It had the world premiere in Edinburgh, the North America premiere at Montreal, and it was the gala film in Germany and I just came from Rio. It’s been getting great response so we’re very, very grateful. We’re just starting to talk with distributors. It’s definitely going to go in the theater — we already have offers to do that.
SF360: Was that Chris Penn’s last film?
Jacobson: I think so.
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