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Writer/director Dee McLachlan and one of the film’s stars, Saskia Burmeister talk to Andrew L. Urban about The Jammed – an exposé of Australia’s sex trafficking – which McLachlan calls the new slave trade - and its sinister underworld, which the authorities do little to control and even less to help the victims.

A special counsellor was on the set during some of the most challenging scenes in The Jammed, to help the cast cope with the emotional stress, says Saskia Burmeister, who plays Vanya, the Russian girl enslaved by Melbourne sex traffickers. One scene made her shudder after each take. And no, these sex traffickers are not burly, hairy, dark monsters, but middle class Melbournians; the owners of the illegal brothel, Glassman, is played by Andrew S. Gilbert and he has just financed an art gallery for his wife. The slave traders are amongst us in the suburbs.

"great depth and detail"

If you think this is far fetched, be assured that filmmaker Dee McLahland researched her subject in great depth and detail, and has used excerpts from court transcripts to build a screenplay that is totally credible – and totally devastating. “I hope the response to the film will be the tightening and toughening of relevant legislation and much better support for the victims.”

Why the need for tougher legislation? Well, that’s how the subject became a film. “I was sitting in a middle class Melbourne suburban café one day, reading the paper, and on page 7 I read a small article about a man getting a suspended sentence for enslaving 40 Thai girls. I was outraged: firstly, the story should have been on page 1! It was like a slap in the face … this is slavery in a new package.” Having come from Africa, McLachlan was always aware of racism, colour and disadvantage. She is also keenly interested in politics, “and usually angry about politics,” she adds ruefully. “I get angry at politicians who do nothing about helping the disadvantaged.”

Newspaper story in hand, McLachlan began the search for a) information and b) money. Neither was easy, but then a private investor put up the first $400,000 which gave others confidence. Film Victoria came to the party, and Los Angeles based Australian sales agency Arclight, took the film on as international sales agent. Once it was completed, Roadshow enthusiastically took on the DVD rights and SBS offered to buy free to air rights.

The term The Jammed is used by support groups to describe the young women jammed between their captors and the Australian bureaucracy. “If the girls are seized by police, they are isolated and just get deported – back to more problems at home,” says McLachlan.

But the film is not a documentary, and McLachlan has fused several elements into her screenplay. When Saskia Burmeister tried to read it before her audition, she says she just couldn’t get through it in one go. “I kept having to stop every 10 pages or so .. it’s so upsetting, I would fall apart. But I thought it was an amazing script. This was throughout the three days prior to my audition, so when I got there I offered Dee that I would do anything, even sweep the floors of the production office, to be a part of this project.”

"It changed my view of Sydney and Melbourne as sunny, fun cities"

Saskia studied a lot of the victims’ experiences. “It changed my view of Sydney and Melbourne as sunny, fun cities. I can see the very dark underside.”

With a German father, Saskia was used to hearing family friends with East European accents, and she met a Russian girl who helped coach her accent. “But then somehow other Russians kept coming into my life …in the end I decided to keep using my Russian accent for the entire three months. Afterwards, my family told me the HATED hearing me!”

But the experience was satisfying – and thanks to the counselling, Saskia and the rest of the cast can continue to be professional actors. “I didn’t have to take Vanya into my life – too tough,” says Saskia.

Published August 23, 2007

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The Jammed

Dee McLachlan

The number of women and children trafficked into sexual servitude (slavery) and debt bondage is impossible to quantify, however national and international sources agree that trade has increased substantially over the last decade.

It is estimated that between 700,000 to 4 million people are trafficked around the world annually for sexual exploitation, with around 50,000 women and children being trafficked into the United States alone. On 13 May 2003, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) listed Australia as the 10th main destination for victims of trafficking with the demand for young Asian girls ever increasing.

Kathleen Maltzahn, coordinator of Project Respect, an organisation that promotes the rights of trafficked sex workers, has claimed that approximately 1000 women are trafficked into Australia each year.

Written & Directed by Dee McLachlan
When insurance clerk Ashley Hudson (Veronica Sywak) does a favour for friend picking up a traveler at the airport, she also gives a lift to Sunee (Amanda Ma), who has come from China to look for her missing daughter, Rubi (Sun Park). Ashley is reluctantly drawn into the search for Rubi, who has become a victim of a sex trafficking scheme run by a Melbourne gang, and she is working as a prostitute, along with fellow victims Vanya (Saskia Burmesiter) and Crystal (Emma Lung). As Ashley tries to help Sunee and Rubi, she gets entangled in the exploitative world of trafficking and the heartless bureaucracy that tramples on the victims on the way to deporting them. (Inspired by actual events and court transcripts.)
Australian DVD release: August 9, 2007

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