The term “human trafficking” — also known as sex trafficking, sexual exploitation or prostitution— tends to bring to mind situations similar to the Liam Neeson movie “Taken” where young white women are snatched up by Russian mobs during visits abroad and sold to wealthy men.
While parts of that may be true, a majority of human trafficking takes place right here in the U.S. and surprisingly, in northern Colorado.
According to an article written by Greeley Tribune reporter Anne Delaney in February 2020, data from the Avery Center for Research and Services estimated 272 individuals were trafficked in Greeley in 2019. The National Institute of Justice estimates that for every one trafficker there are five victims, equaling around 54 traffickers in Greeley.
A new short movie, “Maggie” portrays a powerful story of human trafficking in a realistic light.
The movie, based off of true stories of survivors of sex trafficking, was written, directed and edited by Windsor resident Ben Hess and filmed in the Denver metro area, Loveland and Greeley. Loveland filmmaker R.W. Perkins produced the movie.
“Maggie” stars Calista Masters as Maggie, Marc Brown as Daddy and Luz Lescano as Amber.
“It is prevalent in Greeley, Fort Collins, Loveland, along the I-25 corridor, it’s definitely not as obvious as if you were to drive down Colfax. The typical truckload of kidnapped girls, do we see that up here? No, well at least not that we know of,” Hess said. “But there is a lot of it in the very non-stereotypical, non-traditional way, like the runaway girl who is having sex with people in order to have a place to stay. That technically falls in the same realm.”
The film follows a young woman named Maggie who is thrust into the world of sex trafficking by her boyfriend, Daddy. Audience members watch as Maggie struggles with the emotional, verbal and physical abuses that often come with being trafficked, while trying to get out of the grip of her boyfriend/pimp. Amber, a fellow victim of Daddy’s sex trafficking befriends Maggie.
“It (human trafficking) is prevalent in Greeley, Fort Collins, Loveland and along the I-25 corridor. The typical truckload of kidnapped girls, do we see that up here? No, well at least not that we know of,” Hess said. “But there is a lot of it in the very non-stereotypical, non-traditional way, like the runaway girl who is having sex with people in order to have a place to stay. That technically falls in the same realm.”
Hess partnered with The Avery Center in Greeley for their input and advice on the film. The center assists at-risk individuals who are currently experiencing or previously experienced commercial sexual exploitation.
“I knew I wanted to make sure it was true to realistic events,” Hess said. “I worked with those guys to make sure I was staying true to some things that could happen in real life.”
The center also allowed Hess the use of its house for filming and Angie Henderson, lead Data Analyst and Training Coordinator and Megan Lundstrom, director of Research for the center helped with casting.
“I cry every time I see it because it’s such a good storyline and I know it comes from a place where it is informed by real life experience,” Lundstrom commented. “It ties in so deeply with The Avery Center, it’s very meaningful.”
One thing that Lundstrom really appreciates about the film is that it touches on human trafficking in the LatinX community with Maggie being of Latin ethnicity.
“That’s a community that’s not talked about at all in trafficking,” she said. “That was groundbreaking to me to see that final piece. That story isn’t being told especially in movies or documentaries.”
While short films are typically defined as running 40 minutes or less, including all credits, Hess packs a lot of drama and emotion into the 22:13 minute film.
“I don’t know that I could tell a story in 20-minutes and it hits all the points in this girl’s life experiences,” Lundstrom said. “Also, you understand the story-arc but you want to understand the characters more.
“We told Ben that he has to do a full-length movie about this,” she added.
Never having produced a short film before, Hess was nervous that the film would be too long or not make sense from a narrative standpoint.
“I feel like I was able to put it together in a way it made sense for the most part,” he explained. “Of course, if I could go back and do certain things over again I absolutely would. But I am pretty happy with the way it came out.”
His efforts have definitely paid off as the film has garnered several awards including the San Francisco Indie Shorts Fest 2020 Best US Drama, Best Colorado Short at the 2020 Horsetooth International Film Festival and Best US Director, Actor and Actress at the Venice Shorts Fest in October 2020. The film has also been nominated for Best Drama Short at IndieX Fest as well as Best Production Design for the 2020 Indie Short Festival.
Hess is currently working on some music videos and has more short films in the works as well as plans for a full-length feature film.
“I have to do things one at a time because I have to be really careful about balancing my full-time job and my home life,” Hess said, laughing. “Obviously this takes up a lot of time.”
To see a free screening of “Maggie,” go to https://bit.ly/35tr0kp.
For more information on The Avery Center and its programs, go to www.theaverycenter.org.