A scattershot examination of forced labor, coerced prostitution and modern slavery.

Malpractice is one way to describe helmer Kat Rohrer’s treatment of human trafficking in “Fatal Promises,” a scattershot examination of forced labor, coerced prostitution and modern slavery that’s too haplessly unfocused to really help its cause. Almost paradoxically, Rohrer’s victims — ranging from Eastern European women trafficked for sex to sailors forced to work on a crab boat — tell terrible stories that become banal in light of the vastness of the crimes; Rohrer’s problem is not knowing how to make an interview drive home a point. Commercial prospects look dim for the docu, which opened Sept. 16 at Gotham’s Cinema Village.

When not concentrating on the Ukraine-U.S. situation, Rohrer studies New York’s struggle to pass anti-trafficking laws, yielding unexpected amusement when ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, shown signing anti-trafficking legislation, has to leave office after a prostitution scandal. But again, there’s no balance: One politician’s career is a relative blip on the radar. Offering a bigger picture are such experts as Gloria Steinem and actress Emma Thompson (who’s refreshingly frank regarding the efficacy of celebrity advocacy). They provide grim statistics, and there’s no doubt Rohrer’s subject is important. But her film just isn’t.

Fatal Promises

Documentary

Production

A GreenKat Prods. release and presentation. Produced by Kat Rohrer, Anneliese Rohrer, Tom Greenman. Directed, edited by Kat Rohrer.

Crew

Camera (color), Tom Marschall, Minos Papas; music, Joseph Fogarazzo. Reviewed at Cinema Village, New York, Sept. 20, 2009. Ukrainian, English dialogue. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Katja, Anya, Gloria Steinem, Emma Thompson, Jeff Labovitz.
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