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TRADE

About The Production
The story of Trade begins in 2003, when reporter and writer Peter Landesman spent five months in the barrios of Mexico City reporting a ground-breaking cover story on sex slavery for the New York Times Magazine. Landesman had gained a reputation for tackling provocative stories; he had covered the wars in Kosovo and Afghanistan, and reported on the dealings of global arms traffickers. But his report from Mexico, Sex Slaves on Main Street, was perhaps the most controversial of all, revealing for the first time the hidden, horrifying crime network of child sex trafficking operating in the U.S., Mexico and Europe. On the Times' website the article became the most requested story of the year, and was awarded "Best Foreign Reporting on Human Rights Issues” by the Overseas Press Club (the magazine world's Pulitzer). "It all began when my wife -- Kimberlee Acquaro, the photojournalist on the story -- saw a local news story on TV about Mexican girls who had been found prostituting themselves in the reeds outside of San Diego,” he recalls. "When I went down to investigate, immediately it seemed there was something missing in the news story – something hidden, wrong, unsaid.” 

Within a week of reporting, the writer found himself inside an "unspeakable” network of sex traffickers who were kidnapping girls, young women and sometimes adolescent boys and smuggling them across the U.S.-Mexican border. From there, they ferreted their sex slaves into secret stash houses littered across the cities and bedroom communities of America. Usually they would drug their victims into submission and hold them hostage for months or years while selling their bodies for outrageous profits. Most were unable to escape these trafficking "tunnels,” and many were never heard from again. 

For Landesman, the shocking discovery was like "walking into a house and suddenly finding yourself falling through a trap door into a bottomless cavern.” The TV news story, he discovered, had missed the whole point. "Watching it you had believed these girls were prostitutes, but in fact they were sex slaves. I finally realized what had been unsaid, untold.” (See "Journeys to the Underground,” p. 13)

Producer Rosilyn Heller had already heard of Landesman through his prior articles and screenplay commissions when her friend and producing partner, Gloria Steinem, brought him to Heller's home for a dinner party. After learning he was writing a story about sex trafficking – an issue close to her heart as a long-time advocate for women's rights – she sensed the groundwork for a compelling film with deeply personal and relevant storylines. 

"People are always quick to point their fingers and say this is a problem that exists overseas, in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa,” Heller notes. "But that's not true. It's also right here in our own backyard.” 

Heller then called her close friend and producing partner, the director Roland Emmerich. Would he consider taking on the project?

"Roland of course was known for these huge successful studio movies like Independence Day, The Patriot and The Day After Tomorrow,” Heller says. "But I knew he was also deeply committed to doing smaller, more provocative political and personal pieces. I knew he had a tremendous interest in Mexico's culture and people. I was thrilled that he unequivocally said ‘yes.'” 

With Emmerich's purchase of the rights to Landesman's story, the director of some of Hollywood's biggest blockbusters became the de facto godfather of one the most intimate and powerfully-themed projects to hit the independent film community. "This was such an important story for me that I was determined to see this ‘little' project born,” notes Emmerich. "It may be smaller in budget but it was so great in terms of its emotional core. And this for me is what makes a movie truly ‘big.' ”  <

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