Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Whistleblower

In 1999, Nebraska police officer and divorced mother of three Kathryn Bolkovac decided she'd like to travel and see the world. Her grandfather was Croatian, immigrating to the United States in the 1920s, so eastern Europe sounded attractive. When her police department received a recruitment flyer from military contractor Dyncorp promising generous pay and high adventure, she packed her bags and joined the elite brotherhood of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia.

What she finds in former Yugoslavia is not what she expects. It's not that her expectations are unreasonable though.

  • She expects that the 45-nation U.N. police force is comprised of highly trained and dedicated officers. In reality, not everyone has a law enforcement background (or even a driver's license). Though it's hardly mentioned during the film, Bolkovac and her "skilled" colleagues donate a portion of their days to teaching peacekeepers from underdeveloped nations how to write reports, use computers, and drive.
  • She expects that her fellow peacekeepers are of the highest moral caliber (or at least not a band of thugs and felons). In reality, many of them are patrons of the local brothels where a blind eye is turned to human trafficking and kidnapped women are held in never-ending servitude. With the exception of a few local police that aren't corrupt, Kathryn has no allies and begins to fear the other members of the mission who are supposed to have her back.

Shortly after arriving in Bosnia and donning a blue jumpsuit, Bolkovac (played by Rachel Weisz) is promoted to the position of human rights investigator. She spends the next year interviewing and photographing over 100 women, visiting them in hospitals, and modeling an impressive variety of subtly different blue jumpsuits.

Eventually, Bolkovac is ordered out of Bosnia and cut loose from the U.N. mission. In real life, she filed a lawsuit in Great Britain against DynCorp for unfair dismissal. On August 2, 2002 the tribunal unanimously found in her favor. Nowadays, she's an advocate for the public awareness of human trafficking, no longer an activist.

There are actually two threads to this movie, one about Kathryn Bolkovac and her struggle to uncover the truth regarding peacekeeper involvement in human trafficking, and another about how two of the girls are sold into the slave trade by one of their uncles. We learn over the film's course that it's not uncommon for young girls to be tricked into servatude by family members or people that they trust.

This movie landed filmmaker Larysa Kondracki the audience award for Best Director at SIFF 2011. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that was largely due to the accessible nature of the film (no subtitles, big name actors) and not because it was the best directed movie at this year's festival. The cast is impressive, but the writing feels like a 118 minute long television movie-of-the-week.

  • Rachel Weisz -- much too "beautiful" for a war-torn country (someone mess up her hair)
  • David Strathairn -- much too "good" for someone in internal affairs (more anger David, more ANGER!)
  • Vanessa Redgrave -- a plausible UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (tea and crumpets anyone?)

- Ron Shaker

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, 2011
Mood: David vs. Goliath
Education/Entertainment: 20% / 80%
Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: Drama
Rating: 3/5

SIFF
IMDB

Interview with Weisz and Bolkovac (starts at 37:10)

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