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True-Crime Story ‘Selling Isobel’ Explores Dangers Faced by Actresses, Models

Screenwriter draws on her horrific true-life experiences

LONDON — Any self-respecting book on screenwriting always encourages aspiring writers to write what they know, but in the case of Sweden’s Frida Farrell that goes beyond the imagination of many.

Drawing on Farrell’s own horrific true-life experiences as a young actor and model, “Selling Isobel” tells the story of Isobel, a young mother whose life is changed when a charming stranger invites her to take part in a photo shoot. Instead, Isobel is kidnapped and sold into the sex trade, and the film concerns her fight to escape.

The film won the Raindance Film Festival’s inaugural Indie Award, one of two new awards introduced at this year’s event, which was collected by writer/star Farrell and director Rudolf Buitendach. “It was a wonderful surprise,” Buitendach told Variety. “To be honest, I was just honored to be in the same festival as Johnny To and Dominik Moll…”

Rudolf, how did you get involved in this project?
Buitendach: I was approached by the filmmakers. I didn’t know much about the project, and the more we talked, the more they started to confide in me. I read the script and thought it was really interesting, and then a week later I discovered that this wasn’t just any old script, this was actually Frida’s story and she was trusting me to tell it. I felt very privileged.

Seriously? Why did you choose to make a movie about it?
Farrell: It’s my story, yes. I chose to write a screenplay about it because I think film is the quickest medium to get a story out, rather than writing a book. I considered writing a book too, but I think people don’t like to read, to be honest – they want to watch. People want to see crazy things, so we decided to make a film instead. I mean, the book can always come after. [The kidnapping] happened 14 years ago, and I didn’t talk about it for ten years because I was too embarrassed. I was too scared. I thought, People are gonna judge me, they’re gonna pity me, and I don’t want that. Because I’m not a victim – I’m a survivor.

Buitendach: She also wanted the film to serve as a cautionary tale for young women – to say, “Be careful when an attractive man asks you to go to a casting or a photo shoot, because it might be a demon in disguise.”

Frida, were you worried about your story falling into the wrong hands?
Farrell: I was very concerned about who was going to take my story and realize it, so I was very particular and spent a lot of time going over things with him, talking about how I wanted it to be told. But then I gave him creative freedom, because I had to do that too. I couldn’t box him in. So we reached a compromise – arty on the one hand, raw and crazy on the other.

Rudolf, was that a daunting responsibility for you?
Buitendach: It was. But it was a tough film to make anyway, because we had limited resources. I think Raindance gave us the Indie Award because it was a true indie film. It took us three years to finish the film. We literally finished it on Tuesday last week, so it was almost in the balance whether we would be in the festival at all.

How faithful is it to the real-life events?
Buitendach: The incident itself happened in London, but because we were all based at the time in Los Angeles we moved it there. Certain details are almost exactly like the true experience, but we decided to make the film more of a thriller, in the hope that it would reach a bigger audience. That’s why it’s called “Selling Isobel” and not “Selling Frida.” We didn’t want to make a dark, depressing “movie-of-the-week.”

We took a fair bit of liberty with the story, but the basic premise of the film — a girl is kidnapped on the streets of a city and held captive for three days and two nights while various men show up and exploit her — is the exact truth. And we thought by setting the film in the cloak of… let’s call it an indie-Hollywood thriller, it would appeal to a wider range of young women who would see this cautionary tale and say, “Hang on, I’ve got to think twice about what I get myself into.”

Farrell: I guess it’s a cause movie. It’s a thriller in the sense that it gets worse and worse and worse, then ramps up at the end. If it was a documentary, it wouldn’t be the same thing.

How do people react to it?
Buitendach: [The Raindance film festival] is literally the first time we’ve ever screened the movie to anyone, and people are a little bit traumatised by it. Which I guess means it’s a strong film. But a few people have come back to me and said, “Thanks for giving me nightmares for the last few nights!” I say to them, “Well, now you know what I’ve been going through for the last three years!”

Farrell: After the last screening an 18-year-old girl came up to me and said, “Oh my God, I’m so naïve.” I said, “No, you’re not, you’re just young.” And she’s so grateful for having seen it, because she’s an actress and from now on she’s going to take a friend with her to auditions and let her mom know exactly where she’s going. That’s a job done right there.

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