During a statewide crackdown on human trafficking in California earlier this year, police officials arrested more than 500 suspects and rescued at least 56 people including eleven girls.
As the scourge of human trafficking continues to destroy lives, a team of talented actors from around the world have coalesced in Riverside to tell a story about the impact this issue is having globally.
In a county-owned facility, a former animal shelter turned movie set located on Wilderness Avenue in Riverside, these actors, under the stewardship of Director Romane Antoine Simon, are working on a break-through feature film titled, “I Am Not For Sale,” designed to bring greater public attention to one of the most concerning issues of our time.
Written by Simon in collaboration with award winning film director and screenwriter, Chukwu Lowance, “I Am Not For Sale” exposes the horror of the human sex trafficking industry in a way the writers hope will compel movie goers to work to help end this travesty.
The grandson of a Haitian president, Simon was born into a family that favors politics, yet he wanted to take his life in a different direction. “I wanted to tell quality stories through moving pictures and I came to America to do that.”
When Simon arrived in America the movie industry door was opened for him. “I’ve done a lot of horror and action films and now I find myself doing stories that have more meaning and that can also be a part of changing the world,” he stated.
He described “I Am Not For Sale” as something close to his heart, particularly as a Haitian. “After the earthquake, it was easy for people to come to Haiti and to take kids—the kids just disappeared.” Simon stressed, “I have a lot of sisters and a lot of aunts, and I feel like the world is getting more dangerous.”
He continued, “We have to fear for the females that are in our families. I just wish that women were more respected. You were brought into this life by women,” Simon said passionately, “I think if we all come together, if we want to stop human trafficking—we all have to do our part.”
Simon hopes the movie will serve as a springboard to a movement to end human trafficking and praised members of the movie’s international cast who all wanted to be a part of telling this story.
One of the film’s stars, actress Judi Evans, best known for her television roles in Another World, Days of our Lives and A Guiding Light, said she accepted the role even though it is outside her normal wheel house because she thinks there needs to be more attention brought to the issue of human trafficking.
“I know we cover it on the news and there’s been other movies about it,” Evans explained. “But, I think it happens more than we realize. Every single day girls, and boys too, are being kidnapped, traded and killed. We’ve got to do something. Everybody. At the very least, create awareness and help these kids.”
Evans plays a character in “I Am Not For Sale” most would consider unredeemable. “I’ve played some borderline naughty girls [in my career], but nothing bad. I’ve played girls who made bad choices but not people who just feed off other people and enjoy hurting them,” she lamented.
Evans said she prepared for the role by trying to empty herself out. “We all have a dark side,” she noted, “So, I try to pump that side up. It’s a reach . . . a stretch. I just really hope I’m not chewing the scenery.” Chewing the scenery is a term used in the movie industry to describe when an actor over-acts or is too melodramatic.
Another of the film’s stars, celebrated actor Dustin Ardine, plays opposite Evans and is among a list of amazing cast members that include Lester Speight, Denise Milfort, Tom Sizemore, and Sabina Lisievici. “I’m very excited to be a part of this amazing film and can’t wait for others to see it,” he shared.
Referring to the tragedy of human trafficking Ardine said, “We as human beings all have our part to play in being a part of changing the world. I think change starts with us.” Ardine further expressed concern that human trafficking is something that is growing by the minute. “If you care about family, if you care about justice, if you care about people being safe, I think we should all stand together to end human trafficking. That is what I think we are doing with the cast of “I Am Not For Sale.”
Ardine plays Evans’ assistant in the film. She picked him up off the streets of New York when he was a child and raised him. He’s conflicted sometimes about what goes on because he has a very strong morality but does what she says because she has been like a mother to him.
In the film, Ardine’s character falls in love with a character played by Romanian actress, Sabina Lisievici. The daughter of a Russian mother and Romanian father, she is a celebrated movie actress and television star in her home country and is also passionate on the issue of human trafficking. “We have this problem in Romania and throughout Europe,” she shared, “Girls are being sold like chips. I think we have this problem more than you do here. I am an ambassador in my own country against human trafficking. She see this as a real connection between herself and the role she plays.”
The film’s complex and flawed characters include those played by Russian actor Igor Krasiy and Haitian rapper/actor, Jeff Chery aka Haitian Mufasa, both characters are far removed from the compassionate human beings they are in real life.
“We are trying to tell the story, but this is actually a real global problem, Krasiv explained. “It is impacting the lives of millions of people in almost every country,” adding, “Although sex trafficking is the most well-known, human trafficking also exists in regard to labor, children, organs and other areas.”
Haitian rapper and VH-1-star, Mufasa, said his character is very conflicted regarding the women being trafficked. “I feel for them and everything that is going on. So, there are a lot of parts in the film where I’m like, ‘Man!’ Yet, I still have to stay firm because I still have a job to do.”
The movie will continue filming at several locations through the end of July. Simon hopes the film will disturb the audience enough that they will stand up and say, “You know, this is something that is happening for real,” he said before expressing his belief that people can make a difference in the fight to end human trafficking by standing up collectively and speaking out against it just like members of the African American community did against racism and the LGBTQ community did against homophobia. “If we let our voices be heard on the issue of human trafficking, more people will be alert, more people will be looking out and I think we can really have an impact. Our plan is to start a movement.”
Simon decided to shoot part of the movie in Riverside County for two reasons: First, the director acknowledged his love for the City of Riverside, and second, because human traffickers are often drawn to areas like the inland region where there is a lot of land and vacant buildings just like they are attracted to areas with lots of hotels like Las Vegas, Nevada and Atlanta, Georgia.
“A lot of people don’t have any idea how much filming is done in Riverside County,” said Riverside County Film Commissioner Stephanie Stethem. In 2013 the Riverside County Board of Supervisors wanted to increase filming in the county, so they revised our film ordinance to allow for free film permits in unincorporated areas of the county and county owned buildings like the one where ‘I Am Not For Sale’ is being filmed. Since then we have increased our filming more than 45 percent,” Stethem said.
The Riverside County Film Commission continues to receive numerous permit requests from regional schools including UC Riverside, Riverside Community College and Chapman University. “We encourage them to film here, stay here and work here. “We teach them how to do film permits correctly, how to be on location,” she said.
In addition to “I Am Not For Sale” a number of other movies have filmed in Riverside in recent months including,” A Star is Born” starring Bradly Cooper and Lady Gaga, and “Senior Moments” with William Shatner and Christopher Lloyd. Other Indy films like “I Am Not For Sale” as well as a number of commercials are filmed in the county as well.
“One of the actors here has done several films with us . . . this is his third project with us,” Stethem said. “So, we are getting repeat customers basically. Once the word gets out about Riverside County—the fact we are film friendly and we have free permits—they’ve been coming in droves.”
This number will surely increase as the Wilderness space is in the process of being converted into a full-fledged movie sound stage and production facility through a partnership between Riverside County’s Economic Development Agency and a local community-based entrepreneur, educator and filmmaker. The plan is to create a space where students, professionals as well as local aspiring filmmakers can learn, create and produce projects that will not only enhance the region’s presence in film entertainment, but that will also be a source of employment for the number of residents wanting to pursue a career in this industry.
For more information on the Riverside County Film Commission visit http://www.rcfilmtv.org/.