Land of the free

For the almost 18,000 men, women and children trafficked into the United States yearly and sold as sex workers or forced laborers — in addition to the estimated 50,000 U.S.-born sex slaves — America is not the land of the free. And one of the most notorious areas for slave trafficking is Southern California. Police have found women imprisoned in local massage parlors, forced to service male customers. In the past year, officers have raided apartments from Fullerton to Dana Point, finding neighborhood brothels operating as part of widespread prostitution rings.

After watching a documentary on global sex and labor trafficking, Brandon Marx, a Biola film student, decided to direct a film exposing these crimes. Hannah Roberts, a Biola screenwriting student, introduced Marx to a woman named Aly, whose father had helped form a brothel in Southern California where he pimped out Aly and her sisters. Shockingly, Aly’s charismatic father was a successful businessman and an elder in his local church.

“If this can happen under our noses,” says Marx, “then we have to do something about it.”

Marx’s narrative film and accompanying documentary, Land of the Free, developed out of interviews with Aly. Roberts wrote the script, which juxtaposes Angelina — a Mexican girl who is kidnapped and forced into prostitution — and Micalea — a white, middle-class barista at a small coffee shop, who is lent to paying customers by her father. The film unabashedly portrays the horrors of the slave and sex trafficking industries.

“We are tackling a really hard issue,” says Kat Fredericks, the film’s co-producer. “Our point isn’t to show evil or violence for its own sake, but to shed light on the darkness.”

In many ways, this is not a typical Christian movie. There is no conversion scene, and the ending leaves audiences wondering whether the girls escape. Actor Andy Burso, who plays a slave trafficker, did not expect Christian university students to explore the seedy subject of sex slavery.

“I thought it was really interesting and really gutsy,” he said. “This film is not safe at all.”

Land of the Free captures the horrific reality of the hidden world of sex trafficking. Many slaves die before they can escape or buy their freedom.

“I don’t really care if Christians are shocked or upset about what’s in this movie,” Fredericks says. “We need to get shocked about this issue, we need to get disgusted about it and we need to rise up and say we’re not going to tolerate this anymore.”

Land of the free 2

Marx, Fredericks and Evangeline Lee, another co-producer, recruited more than 30 Biola film students for the crew and called in professional actors for the cast. Members of the crew were shocked to discover the prevalence of slavery in the United States.

“We think slavery is an international issue,” says unit production manager Alicia Gaynor. “But it really is an American issue too.”

Even with a newfound determination to expose the U.S. slave trade, pre-production proved more difficult than the crew expected. Marx began having panic attacks. Horrifying nightmares plagued Fredericks.

“I felt the weight of the issue on my shoulders during the day” she says. “My heart felt like it was full of tears and sadness.”

Instead of stumbling ahead alone, the crew held daily prayer meetings. They gave their project to God, asking him to send his light to illuminate the darkness they experienced.

The crew of Land of the Free spent Easter Break filming 12 hours each day. Empty cans of Mountain Dew and pizza boxes piled up, and the small coffee pot worked overtime. Despite spiritual warfare, Marx never cut any scenes, nor did the crew experience any major setbacks, he said.

Land of the Free debuted at Whittier Village Cinemas on May 27, selling out to two full houses. At the event, producers hosted the World Team Foundation, which is working to eliminate sex slavery in both the United States and Thailand. The film has also premiered in Dallas, Texas.

To order the $15 dollar DVD, e-mail lotfdvdorders@gmail.com. To learn more about the film, visit the official website at www.landofthefree-movie.com.