Documentary on human trafficking features areas of East Lansing

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“Break the Chain” is a documentary that focuses on the discussion of sex and labor trafficking issues in Michigan. The premiere date of the documentary is to be set sometime in the beginning May.

By Camille Douglas
Entirely East Lansing

EAST LANSING – In a tiny conference room that can probably fit no more than 10 people in the Capitol Building in Lansing, documentarian Laura Swanson waited for the arrival of U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

Swanson says she stood behind a wooden table in the middle of the room as her two crew members finished setting up two large Canon cameras on tripods.

Stabenow entered in a cobalt dress suit. She and Swanson took seats on the opposite side of the table, Stabenow directly in front of the lens, facing Swanson. The red record buttons were pressed, and Swanson began questioning Stabenow about the growing issues of human trafficking in Michigan for the next independent documentary she is producing and co-directing titled, “Break the Chain.”

“Human trafficking is a really broad subject, and we are trying to make it so that people can understand how it happens within smaller communities and smaller areas, yet it can still be applicable to any state or any nation,” Swanson said.

“Break the Chain” will concentrate on sex and labor trafficking issues in Michigan. Areas of East Lansing, along with Lansing, Ann Arbor and Detroit, will be featured.

The premiere date of the documentary is still to be determined, but Swanson estimates that the date will be sometime in the beginning of May. Swanson and her crew are looking to have the premiere be held at Studio C! in Okemos.

Swanson came up with the idea for the documentary after finishing up her previous documentary, “Every Two Minutes,” that focused on sexual assault in the U.S.

“I started seeing all of these articles and news headlines about human trafficking. When I started doing research, I learned that it is happening all around us,” Swanson said. “I realized that sexual assault and human trafficking have a lot of parallels and similarities, and there is a need for producing media that is actually accurate and is representative from a survivor’s perspective.”

Swanson began researching the topic of human trafficking in October 2014, but it was not until August 2015 when production for this documentary began with a full crew.  An Michigan State University alumna herself, Swanson pulled together a team of 16 MSU alumni and current students.

“I joined because I was interested in the issue and didn’t know enough about it as I should,” media and information senior and camera operator Savannah Smith said. “In doing it, I have learned a lot about the issue, and I think that it is interesting because people just don’t have it in their heads that it happens here.”

Along with Swanson, about three to four team members were selected to travel to wherever the subject may be in Michigan.

“With this project we really want to focus on filming people in their environment, such as where they work or where they live,” Smith said.

Some of the sources they have interviewed include survivors; advocates, such as members of the Michigan Human Trafficking Taskforce; nonprofit organizations; legal representatives and law enforcement officials. Having a big scope of sources have allowed the crew to truly capture all aspects of human trafficking in Michigan, Swanson said.

A challenge the crew faces is finding funding, as the documentary is independent and fairly small since Swanson estimates the finished film will only be about 45 minutes long.

An Indiegogo page was created to help raise money for production. Specifically, donations were directed toward equipment rentals, marketing campaigns, paying crew members and editors, and travel expenses. The crew managed to raise $3,369 of their $8,000 goal.

“I think whatever we get is amazing. I think we are all working on this project knowing that we are not getting paid for it,” journalism sophomore and marketing director Erica Marra said. “So if we do not get enough money to get paid, that is sort of what we have been expecting from before.”

The original premiere for the documentary was scheduled to be in early December 2015. However, the date of release has been pushed to the beginning of May 2016 because the crew is still working on editing.

“I don’t think people realize the amount of work that goes into making a feature-length documentary, especially one like this that covers a subject like human trafficking,” Swanson said. “There is so much legal stuff and paperwork that you have to get on certain subjects.”

For whenever the release date will be in May, Swanson is excited to see the finished product, but in the meantime, she is enjoying being able to work with survivors on conveying the issue of human trafficking.

“I see so many connections to sexual assault with human trafficking, but I see a lot less survivors of human trafficking come forth. When we have gotten survivors to come forward it is remarkable,” Swanson said. “I am so grateful that they are trusting us to tell their story. We are trying to do right by human trafficking and create something that people can be proud of.”  



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