At SIFF, local film "Eden" spins a true tale of sex trafficking

May 21, 2012

The film "Eden" tells the story of human trafficking through the tale of a Korean American teen in New Mexico. It's part horror film and part survivor's tale and it's based on a true story.

It's Seattle director Megan Griffith's third feature film.  And it's a project she was drawn to because of the actual narrative:

"What drew me to the script was the fact that it was a journey of a woman who was in a situation who wasn't rescued by anyone. She kind of had to be her own hero. And I found that really interesting. In the great majority of these films there's a police officer character who swoops in and saves the day," Griffiths says.

Griffith's last film was last year's "The Off Hours." "Eden" won the Audience Award earlier this year at South by Southwest. It's now being screened as part of the Seattle International Film Festival.

Shot mostly in  Eastern Washington and Seattle, the film tells the story of an 18-year-old Korean American girl who lives in New Mexico, is about to graduate from high school, and is working at her parents' taxidermy shop. One night she goes out to a bar with her girlfriend and a fake I.D. She meets a handsome man who offers her a ride home. She ends up being stuffed in the trunk of a car and doped up on morphine.

The girl (Jamie Chung) ends up being renamed Eden by her captors. It's the name of trailer park where she lived. Her new life is with dozens of other girls living in a storage unit out in the middle of the desert. The ringleader of the operation is a sheriff named Bob Gault, a character played by actor Beau Bridges.

"When (producer) Colin (Plank) and I were casting the character we really wanted someone who came with that amiable, likable nature," Griffiths says.

He's anything but likable in a gripping film that portrays how efficiently the trafficking ring operates. And what it takes for Eden to eventually survive.

The script was developed after writer Richard Phillips saw a  newspaper story about the experiences of Chong Kim, who was abducted in Oklahoma and trafficked into Las Vegas and California.

"You think about these kind of things happening in other parts of the world and now to know that this occurs in the U.S. said to me, 'This is a movie I know we have to make,'" said producer Plank. He hired Griffiths to rework the script and eventually direct the film.

Chong was on set during parts of the production. She told the filmmakers the storage unit-turned brothel was eerily similar to where she had been held.

While the film shows the inner-workings of the trafficking ring, the filmmakers made sure to imply and not show the sexual violence on screen. They wanted to be sensitive to Kim's feelings. But they also wanted to deliver a film that was watchable.

That's part of the reasoning behind turning this true story into a narrative film, rather than a documentary.

"You can present this in a way that, this is strange to say, entertaining to watch. If you strip the issue away, it's an interesting movie with action, suspense and strange, dark comedy. And also, you're also being educated about something that's going on around you," Griffiths says.

(A production note: The song that runs in the film's end credits, as well as in the audio interview with Griffiths and Plank, above, is "Love More" by Sharon Van Etten.)