Trafficked is a movie about the sex trade in Ireland – We go behind the scenes with director Ciaran O’Connor

Trafficked, a new Irish movie from director Ciaran O’Connor, takes a look at the underground sex trafficking industry in Ireland. We caught up with the director to go behind the scenes on the film hitting cinemas this weekend.

Check out the trailer below.

Q: What brought you to the subject of sex trade?

I was intrigued with the idea of how somebody from a foreign land can come here without the language and begin a whole new life that is completely alien to them. I wanted to develop a character who has sacrificed so much by the time the audience meets them. Trafficked is not an issue film, but it’s set in the backdrop of a world that is highly secretive and sinister.

Q: Was it difficult to research the subject?

I have made documentary programmes about the sex industry in the past and it always proved impossible to get the real stories about the girls, their personal lives and the backgrounds that they came from. I thought there was a great opportunity to try and fill in these gaps and imagine the world of a girl who finds herself in a world where she is powerless and without a voice.

 

Q: This is your first movie – was it an idea you were working on for a long time?

Not really, I was most interested in doing a film about an unconventional relationship between two people that existed on need and survival, not love and mutual respect. I knew I wanted to make a thriller that came from a real place and something that would throw some light on a world that is highly secretive.

Q: Were you surprised by what you saw when researching the film?

I am surprised now when I hear that trafficking is stronger than ever. When I hear of the real stories of girls like Taiwo. Taiwo’s story is tame by comparison, which is frightening. But I do remember reading a news story at the time of the young girls’ murder and you really couldn’t believe it, it was so out there, so far beyond even fiction..

Q: Is the sex traffic industry in Ireland bigger than you thought it was?

They can’t put a number on the people who are trafficked into Ireland, but it certainly exists. There seems to be a constant stream of stories about the prosecution of pimps and brothel owners so it does give a real indication of the extent of the business of prostitution here. This film is certainly current.

Q: Did you include any real life stories or did any stories steer the movie in a certain direction?

No, but at the time we filmed, there seemed to be a surge in the number of clubs opening. The sex industry was beginning to try and get an acceptable face as a mainstream entertainment. For me, all I had to do was trace the trajectory of Taiwo’s journey and ask, what would she do if somebody placed her in a particular situation.

Q: How long did it take to write/film?

Not long, when I got the concept sorted, I’d say it was about 3 weeks. The shoot itself was 3 weeks. A bit longer to get it to the cinema,,,(laughs)

Q: Was it difficult to get financing for the movie?

Finance…what finance? It was shot for under ten grand. I hoped to do it for 5…but then the crew needed more food than I budgeted for (laughs). Seriously, it was made because of the generous contributions of actors and crew who believed in it. They are the financiers of trafficked! The Film Board came in with completion money that enables it to be released.

Q: As a first time director, what was your biggest challenge making the movie/getting it to screen?

I have worked in TV for years and once I made the decision to shoot on tape then I treated it just like a TV production, albeit with any cash. I was conscious from the very start that the success of the film was down almost entirely to the performances of my cast. I didn’t have anything else, and I put myself in their hands really.

Q: What were you looking for in your leading cast?

I wanted the audience to care about Taiwo and Keely. Karl Shiels has a fantastic range as an actor and Ruth had to contend with a role that gave her few lines but with a seemingly endless offering of looks, glances, nods, blinks. I also needed them to connect. They were friends anyway and I felt that that added another dynamic. Both gave outstanding performances. I was also blessed with contributions from Jasmine Russell, Martin Dunne, Neillie Conroy and the late and great Niall O’Brien and Patricia Irvine.

 

Q: How did you discover Ruth Negga who plays Taiwo?

Ruth was becoming a name in theatre and really it was a no brainer. She was getting good reviews and It was only a matter of time before she was doing film.

Q: How tough was it to set the grim tone for the film?

By necessity, we had to work with what we had, which wasn’t a lot. But we had a lot of energy which gave the shoot a vibrancy and urgency that would be unusual on most sets. We were never stuck in the one place for long.

Q: The film is billed as ‘a love story with a controversial message’ – was it difficult to set the balance between the two?

The balance for me was making sure that the camera wasn’t exploiting Taiwo. It was a thin line between giving the audience a sense of her struggle and sitting there take this abuse. The letters that she rights helps us in seeing her as a fuller character and those letters are key to humanizing her.

Q: What are you working on next? How do you follow the dark world of Sex Trade?

Believe it or not, I’m working on something a bit lighter, a musical comedy drama called ‘Highway to Nowhere’ which was written by Michael McCudden. The story is about two aging country musicians who were famous in their heyday but now are bitter and twisted. It’s a delicious story woith toe tapping music and a bag of belly laughs…


Trafficked is at Irish cinemas from May 21st