In a recent interview with Danette Wolpert , the founder and Executive Director of the four-day Illuminate Film Festival in Sedona, Danette described the opening night film on Thursday, May 28, as extraordinary. (Click Here to read the full interview)
Based on a well received novel by Patricia McCormick, Sold, directed by Jeffrey D. Brown, follows its source material surprisingly close, with only some minor changes made to its narrative in order to make it work from page to screen.
To describe the film as entertainment is a difficult call – the theme of a child sold into sexual slavery is hardly a subject to be taken as a way of passing a couple of hours at the movies – but Danette is correct when she describes the film as extraordinary. Considering what the film’s leading character lives through, and at such a young age, Sold truly is an extraordinary story, not to mention a fitting opening night film for Sedona’s Illuminate Film Festival.
Lakshmi (Niyar Saika) is a thirteen year-old girl living in a village in Nepal with her parents. “All joy in life comes from giving to others,” her mother tells her daughter. Then the monsoons come and crops are ruined. Out of desperation, the father sells Lakshmi to a woman from the city. The girl is then smuggled out of the country and across the border into India where she is forced into prostitution, presided over by the cruel Mumtaz (Sushmita Mukherjee).
One of the strengths of the film is how it refuses to shy away from some of the more harrowing moments that happen to the young girl while at the Happiness House, the name given to the grimy, main street brothel in which Lakshmi is forced to work and kept prisoner. Rapes and beatings occur, yet director Brown doesn’t soften the impact by cutting away. Instead he focuses on another object in the room while we hear the event. Thus, when Lakshmi is first raped, we focus instead on the door handle that has closed the area, catching only a distorted glimpse of the unfolding horror as reflected on the surface of the metal. “From now on it will get easier and easier,” Lakshmi is told, as if those words are meant to comfort.
Surprisingly, despite the horrors, the film manages to incorporate moments of humor. Lakshmi befriends a young boy who lives at the Happiness House with his working mother. Unlike the young girl held captive, the soccer-loving boy – referred to in the book as the David Beckham boy – has a semi-normal life; he goes to school each day and has a certain amount of freedom. When he smuggles in a bottle of coke, Lakshmi and the boy share the drink. For Lakshmi it’s the first time she has ever tasted soda, and the scene plays out like a light-hearted moment of discovery. As if acting her age for the first time in a long while, Lakshmi and the boy try to out-burp each other. It’s as though her innocence has returned, if only for a few minutes.
Hope for Lakshmi’s rescue comes in the form of Gillian Anderson and David Arquette who aid in the exposure of child trafficking. While posing as a nun from the street below, Anderson takes pictures of the desperate child she spies peering out with tearful eyes from behind the restraining bars in a window of the brothel. The camera is snatched from Anderson and crushed to the floor, but the woman manages to retrieve the undamaged chip within and transfers the shots of the child to an I-pad.
Running at a trim ninety-three minutes, there’s never a lapse in rhythm. Sold progresses to its conclusion at a brisk pace as Lakshmi does what she can to survive the trauma, supported by some outstanding widescreen cinematography by Seamus Tierney. The opening shots of Nepal as the camera sweeps over the mountainous region to Laksmi’s village are breathtaking in their beauty and act as a direct contrast to the nightmarish squalor of Kolkata, India, where Lakshmi will soon be taken.
Characters talk in English throughout. In the novel, the young soccer-loving boy volunteers to teach Lakshmi how to speak English in secret, but in the film, considering she’s already doing that, he teaches her how to read and write instead. It’s understandable why the film would have English as its predominant language – not everyone warms to subtitles – but artistically having characters talk in their native tongue with English spoken only by the Americans would have supported the film’s authenticity further.
The story is fiction, but author McCormick researched her novel thoroughly and based her character’s conflicts on real events. What you’ll see is shocking, but even more shocking is the knowledge that what you see is also all for real. Film has the power to move and inspire in ways that the same story, when presented on a different forum, might have a lesser impact; you’re moved when reading about child trafficking from the pages of a book or a newspaper article but the emotional impact achieved by an involving feature film is difficult to equal. It can change perspective in ways that other forms of story-telling can’t.
Those going to the opening night showing of Sold at the Illuminate Film Festival should stay after the film’s conclusion for a special Q&A session with the film’s director, Jeffrey D. Brown and one of its stars, Gillian Anderson. The film may be a harrowing experience but it’s clear that Sold was a labor of love for its makers, a film of great importance with a message and a story that demands to be seen. Whether it has the potential for a wider release in the multiplexes is difficult to say, but kudos to the Illuminate Film Festival for giving Arizona festival audiences a chance to see Sold for themselves.
For more information regarding times and tickets for Sold and other scheduled showings, CLICK HERE for the official Illuminate Film Festival website,
To read our interview with Danette Wolpert, founder and Executive Director of Sedona’s Illuminate Film Festival, CLICK HERE.