The opening montage of Kat Rohrer’s human-trafficking exposé Fatal Promises abounds in rhetorical flourish. Under stacked sound bites of victim testimony, the filmmaker offers up black-and-white images of vehicles in motion highlighted by a few bold splashes of color (the yellow hull of a boat, the green spray of a car’s headlights) that suggest the lurid pull of the sex-and-forced-labor trade. Fortunately, the angry join-our-cause doc has little further use for such cute aestheticizing, letting the appalling facts of the case speak for themselves. Cutting between first-person testimonials, interviews with activists, and pop-up factoids, and focusing principally on the United States and the former Soviet Union, Fatal Promises outlines a culture of cross-border corruption that preys on poverty and has become so widespread that it can now be mentioned in the same breath as the drug trade. The film also critiques the willful ignorance of law-making bodies that turn a blind eye to these atrocities. (The New York state legislature comes in for special ridicule.) But for all its macro-level critique, it’s the personal stories—a woman forced to prove that she’s menstruating to avoid rape, the starved captives of a crab boat reduced to eating their rotten bait—that have the most impact, humanizing the sickening end-product of capitalist failure.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 15, 2009