How we got a picture of 4 child traffickers and a cocaine dealer in Columbia… and my thoughts on The Abolitionists

Bed

An 11 year-old virgin sits alone awaiting a predator.

Candidly, I might be either the worst or the best guy to review this movie. Why?

Two reasons.

A reason I’m the worst fit, Zero objectivity. I hold Tim Ballard next to the saints, and that feeling only deepens with time.

A reason I’m a good fit, Forced perspective. I was on the missions. So while screening  The Abolitionists I had to fight off real-life, single perspective, memories in order to focus on the screen… and the screen forced me to clarity. I really had to think about what I was watching.

Plot summary:

Ten years ago, the Federal Government asked a young father named Timothy Ballard to become a child pornography expert. He did. He went undercover and put dozens of would-be child rapists away and freed dozens of kids from sex slavery. But after a decade he became frustrated because he wanted to move faster and make more impact.

In the midst of his frustration, he learns of a little boy in Haiti, a friend of a friend’s son, who was kidnapped. He vows to find him. Lack of American jurisdiction in the case limits what Tim can do to find the boy. Final straw.

He quits the government. Donors step forward to fund child rescue operations around the world. Operation Underground Railroad is born.

With new urgency, he continues to look for the boy. Along the way he sets free over 235 children and captures dozens more child rapists and traffickers. He starts a movement. Small national governments begin contacting him for help and even begin taking down their own bad guys.

Spoiler alert, he’s still looking for the boy when the movie ends.

The Abolitionists is not Taken I, II, or III. The Abolitionists demands much more of the viewer than Hollywood might permit today. It asks hard questions

What does a bad guy really look like? Is it A slick 20-something Columbian? A hustling American guy? A 60-year-old women orphanage owner?  All of the above.

Tim reminds his crew from an interrogation room in Haiti, …they look like you…and you…and her…”

Or another implied question:

Can you feel sorry for an over developed 13-year-old girl when she’s dressed like a 21-year-old prostitute and seems to know what’s going on? Or do you think to yourself, she’s asking for it?

Child sex trafficking doesn’t have “We Are the World” optics. And The Abolitionist doesn’t try to force those optics.

Introducing the real problem of child sex trafficking takes skillful set up, which The Abolitionists delivers in spades with a moving soundtrack, risky hidden-camera photography, and a hero.

There are plenty of heroic moments in the film, but the longer-term heroic trade-off is what’s sticking with me… it’s the decade before the film and the next 5 decades after it that I keep thinking about. That trade off is that that Tim willingly gave away his own innocence a decade ago for the chance to preserve some innocence for the world. There’s always a hard deal made in order to become a hero.

And that’s my takeaway.

*As for my original promise about how we got a picture of “four child traffickers and a cocaine dealer”… here I explained it, but below is the gist of it.

I stood 3 feet from them with a Canon 5d Mark II up to my eye. I laughed with the bad guys as I photographed them at will. …because it turns out that the inverse of heroism is also true.. While sacrifice makes heroes lucid and powerful, unchecked greed makes villains blind and stupid.

*Become an Abolitionist, click here.

Photo: Mark Mabry

Tim counts $100 bills one-at-a-time up to $20,000.

Chet Thomas (right), Darrin Fletcher (middle), and Tim Ballard (left) at Haitian Child Protection Brigade office prior to jump. 2014.

Chet Thomas (right), Darrin Fletcher (middle), and Tim Ballard (left) at Haitian Child Protection Brigade office prior to jump. 2014. Chet, Fletch, and their team, produced and directed The Abolitionists. They have filmed missions over the course of the last 18 months.

Child Sex Slaves wait in a "prep" room while unbeknownst to them, Columbian special forces and Child services were converging on the scene outside of their room. Freedom in 15 minutes.

Child Sex Slaves wait in a “prep” room while unbeknownst to them, Columbian special forces and Child services were converging on the scene outside of their room. Freedom in 15 minutes.

Tim (on ground) looks on as Haitian law enforcement takes away a suspected child trafficker.

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 8.32.14 AM

The Abolitionists official movie poster

A young Columbian girl rides on boat  to Baru Island.

A young Columbian girl rides on boat to Baru Island.

Boat 1 of 3, unloads at Baru Island, Columbia. Kids on boat, ages 11-18, expected the usual treatment, but instead were freed by Columbian forces and O.U.R.

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