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Life Is Love

directed by Dave Nelson

starring Somaly Mam

Cinequest Mavericks Studios

Human trafficking is only second to narcotics in the works of big time crime, and much of it ties to Southeast Asia. Cambodia is a particular hotspot, the damage Pol Pot did a lifetime ago still echoes, it's not at all uncommon to abandon female children to the brothels of Phnom Penh and other major cities. We've heard about American and European sex tourist heading over to sample underage girls with no real threat of prosecution, and here we meet the girls they visit. Some girls are real slaves; others were semi-volunteers who now send money to distant families. We meet both the girls and the locals johns, the johns justify themselves with the argument "they know what they are doing; therefore we are not to blame." So who IS to blame? That's a bit ambiguous; prostitution is always the default for women with no other real options.

This collection of interviews introduces a half dozen young women who have survived, under the care of Somaly Mam they have acquired reasonable English or an eloquent translator, and all look healthy and calm and emit the charm of young exotic women. All of their stories are depressingly similar: sold by parents, total dependence on madams who have no interest in treating them fairly, frequent unprotected sex with whoever walked in with a few riels in hand. But one woman stands up for them, Soamly Mam runs a rescue mission for these girls. Once they have reached a safe harbor, she gives them polo shirts and respect, and they make a living doing... anything other than sex. Listen to the girls stories - they are raped and isolated and starved. Listen to the men - they are lonely and struggling to make a stake. Listen to society - it does not value the person, only the net. But then listen to Somaly Mam - she's the one person standing up and doing the right thing by them. Disturbing and up lifting this is a story to pluck your heart. It's a documentary about a world few of us will see, and fewer will experience. This is the big bad wide world, and at least there's one person out to change it for the better.

cinequest.org/