In an exclusive interview, Shreya Patel, a passionate filmmaker and advocate for human trafficking awareness, shares the profound journey behind her documentary ‘Girl Up.’ The film delves into the unsettling world of domestic human trafficking, exposing the rise of manipulative ‘boyfriend’ figures preying on vulnerable girls. The inspiration for the project came from a deep desire to raise awareness about this pressing issue, especially before the passage of crucial legislation. Patel’s ‘Girl Up’ not only captures a young woman’s harrowing journey but also serves as a catalyst for critical discussions on countering human trafficking, drawing the attention of notable figures and prestigious film festivals. In this conversation, Patel reflects on the challenges faced during the film’s release, parallels with ‘Sound of Freedom’ and her unwavering commitment to producing impactful films that illuminate the shadows of human trafficking.
Interviewer: Shreya, thank you for joining us today. Can you start by telling us about your documentary ‘Girl Up’ and the inspiration behind it?
Shreya Patel: Thank you for having me. ‘Girl Up’ plunges into the unsettling world of domestic human trafficking. One of the alarming insights we highlight is the rise of ‘boyfriend’ figures who, while they may initiate contact on dating apps, often extend their manipulative tactics to more physical spaces like malls, schools, and other public places to prey on young, vulnerable girls. The inspiration behind the film came from a desire to shed light on this pressing issue, especially before the passing of Bill C-96, which enacts the Human Trafficking Awareness Day Act, 2017, and the Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking Act.
‘Girl Up’ offers a close look into a young woman’s harrowing journey. Spanning 50 minutes, it captures her fall into the shadows of domestic human trafficking and her spirited journey back to reclaim her life. What’s staggering is realizing how such heart-wrenching narratives are playing out, often silently, even in countries we consider developed. And while many choose to look the other way, I believe these are stories that need to be heard and seen. Our documentary was elevated with the contributions of notable figures like MP Laurie Scott and Journalist Tamara Cherry. I was honored with the opportunity to premiere ‘Girl Up’ at the 18th Annual Filmi: Toronto’s South Asian Film Festival. Additionally, the Toronto International Film Festival recognized the weight of our message and partnered with the film. This partnership culminated in a significant event at the Civic Action Summit. Here, ‘Girl Up’ was not just a film but a catalyst, igniting discussions on counteracting human trafficking. This was augmented by a panel of esteemed civic leaders, survivors, social workers, police officers, and passionate community advocates.
Interviewer: It’s clear that your film addresses a critical societal problem. Can you share the challenges you faced in getting ‘Girl Up’ to the audience?
Shreya Patel: When I finished the film, I never imagined I would face a two-year wait for its to be showcased. It was truly challenging to see a project, so close to my heart and aimed at shedding light on domestic human trafficking face delays. The significant challenge was the broader community’s misunderstanding of the specific type of trafficking I was emphasizing. This, coupled with limited finances and the absence of supportive distribution partners and film festivals, posed considerable hurdles. I eventually decided to take matters into my own hands, work hard to gather the necessary funds, and self-released it. The reactions since then, from national audiences to film festivals, have been deeply encouraging. It means a lot to see community members, law enforcement officials, and most importantly, survivors, using the film to spread awareness and educate others.
Interviewer: Your story resonates with the recent release of ‘Sound of Freedom,’ directed by Alejandro Monteverde, which also faced delays. Can you tell us about the parallels you see between your experiences and the film?
Shreya Patel: Watching ‘Sound of Freedom’ was another eye opening experience for me. The film tackles the deeply unsettling issue of child trafficking, and as I sat through it, I felt a wave of emotions – from anger and sadness to sheer disbelief. It’s disheartening to see that, despite increased awareness and education, such grievous acts persist. What surprised me even more was the half-decade delay ‘Sound of Freedom’ experienced before its release. It raises questions about why initiatives aimed at highlighting trafficking issues often face hurdles and resistance.
Interviewer: Given your passion for raising awareness about human trafficking, do you have plans for another film in the future?
Shreya Patel: Definitely! The idea of producing another film about this subject has been persistently occupying my thoughts; it’s as though the more I try to detach from the subject, the more it beckons me back. I am in research mode currently. I am particularly interested in delving deeper into the stories of South Asian girls who come to Canada as international students, as well as women forced into marriages and then brought to another country, only to end up being trafficked. It’s heartbreaking. My goal is to raise more awareness and educate people about this grave issue. We all need to come together and fight human trafficking in every way we can.