×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Rodd Rathjen on Why Human Trafficking Tale ‘Buoyancy’ Had to be Made as Fiction

Australian Rodd Rathjen’s first film as director, “Buoyancy” is a powerful dramatization of human trafficking within Thailand’s offshore fishing fleet. Shot largely in Khmer and Thai, and selected as Australia’s foreign-language Oscar contender, it may also be a role model for cultural sensitivity and activism.

The film plays this week in competition at the International Film Festival & Awards Macao.

Having discovered the harrowing subject in an online report, Rathjen set about interviewing survivors and escapees from the fishing fleet. Then he put together a cultural consultancy draft of the screenplay, before shooting it as authentically as possible. “We always had people who had been on the boats in the film in non-speaking roles,” Rathjen told Variety. “We could always ask while we were filming – everything from understanding the fishing process, to understanding the emotional and psychological trauma.”

Because of its subject, the film would not have been granted permission to shoot in Thailand. Instead, it lensed for three weeks off the coast of Cambodia and for two weeks in port.

Popular on Variety

The result is a sun-drenched tale of poverty, desperation, deception, brutality, and ultimately murder. The efficiently-told story follows two Cambodian teenage boys who cross into Thailand in hope of getting a factory job. But they end up as indebted slaves, and sold as crew for a small ship that rarely ever returns to shore.

“My approach as a foreigner was to make this film with them, not for them,” said Rathjen, though he also says he is also sad that fishing industry trafficking has been going on for years and “these guys still don’t have a voice.”

The decision to shoot a fiction film, rather than a documentary was an important one. “You hear about these stories from survivors, but I wanted to engage an audience with the human journey. Documentaries find it hard to have access to the brutality – you can hear about it – but seeing it through a young character at a very impressionable age, watching the impact of the brutality, hopefully asks questions of an audience. A fictionalized piece allows us to take the audience into that world,” said Rathjen.

The film premiered at the Berlin festival in February and has since made the tour of festivals, picking up awards in Berlin, Mumbai, Oslo and the APSAs. It recently began a commercial release in Cambodia. Rathjen has also travelled with the film to the rural parts of the country from where people are recruited into desperate, abusive employment.

To date it has not screened in Thailand, which operates one of the largest fishing fleets in Southeast Asia. Thailand was issued with a yellow card warning about human trafficking by the European Union, and has been forced to make some cleanup efforts.

“(Thai authorities) are very protective of their industry, and knowing how effective those (cleanup) measures are, is hard to say. I’m sure it is improving, but I’m also sure (trafficking) still exists today,” said Rathjen. “There is not enough presence out on the water to stop it happening.”

More Film

  • The Island

    ‘The Island,’ ‘Calamity,’ 'Piano Player' Highlight Cartoon Movie 2020 Lineup (EXCLUSIVE)

    BARCELONA – Rémi Chayé’s “Calamity, a Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary,” Anca Damian’s “The Island,” Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal’s “They Shot the Piano Player,” and Enrique Gato’s “Tad the Lost Explorer and the Curse of the Mummy” are among the sixty-six projects from twenty countries to be pitched at the 22nd Cartoon Movie, Europe’s [...]

  • Kirby Dick Amy Ziering

    'On The Record,' Russell Simmons #MeToo Doc, Charts Course to Sundance After Oprah Exit

    Update: A spokesperson for Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering says the filmmaking team will participate in print and broadcast interviews at the Sundance film festival. The accusers featured in the film are weighing press options at this time. Earlier, a spokesperson for the film “On The Record” confirmed to Variety that only photo calls would [...]

  • Ariel Winograd'TOD@S CAEN' film premiere, Los

    Viacom International Studios Signs First Look Deal with Ariel Winograd (EXCLUSIVE)

    MADRID  — Adding to a powerful and still growing talent roster, Viacom International Studios (VIS) has clinched a first-look deal with Argentine writer-director Ariel Winograd whose latest movie, “The Heist of the Century,” has just become one of the biggest Argentine openers in history. The multi-year pact takes in the development and production of not [...]

  • William Bogert Dead: 'Small Wonder' Actor

    William Bogert, Who Appeared in 'War Games,' 'Small Wonder,' Dies at 83

    TV, film and theater actor William Bogert, who appeared in a recurring role on 1980s sitcom “Small Wonder” and in films such as “War Games,” died Jan. 12 in New York. He was 83. On “Small Wonder,” which ran from 1985 to 1989, Bogert played Brandon Brindle, the Lawsons’ neighbor and Harriet’s father who became [...]

  • 1917 Movie

    Why '1917' Is the Last Film That Should Be Winning the Oscar (Column)

    There’s a feeling I always get at the end of a long Oscar night when the movie that won isn’t a terrible choice, but it’s the safe, blah, MOR predictable choice, the one that conforms to the dullest conventional wisdom about the kinds of movies Oscar voters prefer, because in the core of their being [...]

  • Civil Rights Drama 'Praying for Sheetrock'

    Civil Rights Drama 'Praying for Sheetrock' in the Works as Feature Film (EXCLUSIVE)

    Enderby Entertainment is developing a feature film based on Melissa Fay Greene’s civil rights drama “Praying for Sheetrock,” Variety has learned exclusively. The non-fiction book, published in 1991, was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, Georgia Historical Society Bell Award and the ACLU National Civil [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content