UN.GIFT interview with film producer Jamillah Van Der Hulst
The upcoming feature film "Lilet Never Happened" tells the true story of a young girl forced into prostitution on the streets of Manila. UN.GIFT sat down with producer Jamillah Van Der Hulst to discuss the making of the film, the story that inspired the filmmakers to undertake the three-year production, and upcoming projects.
UN.GIFT: Where are you now in the process of making "Lilet Never Happened"?
JVDH: The film is in post production. So after three years it is now almost finished!
UN.GIFT: Can you give us a short synopsis of the story?
JVDH: The film "Lilet Never Happened" is a character driven story about Lilet, a maladjusted Filipino street-girl, struggling to survive on the streets of Manila. International social worker Claire tries to safe her but this hard headed, traumatized girl thinks she can take her life in her own hands. Though Lilet gets many opportunities to quit, she stubbornly chooses the hard way. The film is based on interviews with Lilet, a little girl, who became Manila's most famous child prostitute.
UN.GIFT: What inspired you to make this film?
JVDH: In 1998 the director/scriptwriter/producer of the movie, Jacco Groen, visited the Philippines to research a documentary. There, he met Lilet in a psychiatric institution. Lilet was a child prostitute. Because she was part Western-part Filipina, she was a very popular child prostitute amongst Western paedophiles. Lilet told Jacco that she had tried to commit suicide: "Everyone is only interested in my body and no one is interested in me as a person". Later on, when Jacco tried to contact Lilet again, she was nowhere to be found. Lost without a trace. Deeply moved by Lilet's story, Jacco decided to write a script for a feature film called "Lilet Never Happened". With the film he wants to raise awareness for the problem of child prostitution and the crime that comes with it.
UN.GIFT: In "Lilet Never Happened" children are forced into prostitution and to beg by those closest to them - their parents. Do you consider this a form of human trafficking?
JVDH: I think what the film shows is that it is not all black and white. The mother of Lilet comes from an impoverished background. She has a lot of personal issues and, as happens often in these kinds of situations, she uses her children to help solve her problems. What you saw with the real Lilet was that her mother was a prostitute herself. Lilet her father was a Western customer of her mother. These mothers do not know another world than the world of prostitution and often their daughters also end up in the prostitution. It is a difficult vicious cycle to break.
UN.GIFT: You've been working on this film for several years. Have you seen the situation change over that time? Do you think more people are aware of the problem?
JVDH: We have been working on this film for almost 3 years now. I definitely think the subject gets more attention now, also here in Holland. But on the other side you have got the harsh reality that although the subject is more in the news, the number of children who are forced in the prostitution is only increasing.
UN.GIFT: "Lilet Never Happened" is based on a true story. How does that change/inform the making of this film?
JVDH: Especially for Jacco it was an emotional film to make. For more then 16 years he has been trying to tell the story of Lilet. He has met her personally and he is shocked that after 16 years the problem has only gotten worse instead of less. This film is for the million of Lilet's still out there who have to live through this nightmare every day and we all hope that Lilet her story will open people their eyes.
UN.GIFT: Your lead actors are all young children. Can you tell us a little about them?
JVDH: We were extremely lucky with all the talented young actors in our cast. The lead role of Lilet is played by the extremely talented actress Sandy Talag. Everybody who has seen the movie so far is impressed by Sandy and we all believe she has a great career ahead of her. Tim Mabalot plays the role of Nonoy, Lilet her friend in the shelter home. Tim has already played important roles in Filipino movies and is also such a talented actor. One of the other main characters is the little brother of Lilet, played by Jermaine Patrick Ulgusan. I think the casting directors have done an incredible job in casting.
UN.GIFT: What are the greatest challenges you've encountered in the making of this film?
JVDH: It was extremely difficult to find funding. That's why it took us 3 years to finish the film. It has been and still is a struggle. We are still looking for the last part of funding for the post-production. A lot of people have invested their time in the project for free so far because they believe in Lilet but this means that it takes more time to finish the project. But now that we are almost there you notice a change, people can now see the end result and they are all impressed by the quality and moved by the story.
UN.GIFT: Can you tell us about your team? Who have you been working most closely with on this film?
JVDH: During shooting we have worked with an almost completely professional Filipino crew. The famous Dutch actress Johanna ter Steege plays the role of the social worker Claire but also the rest of the cast was completely from the Philippines, including some well known Filipino actors like John Arcilla, Marifee Necessito, Angeli Bayani and Dorothea Marabut.
Martien Witsenburg is an entrepreneur who was personally touched by the story and who decided to help fund the project. He is now involved as co-producer. The well known producer Mike Downey is also involved as co-producer and the Dutch production company 24FPS and FilmMore have been helping us during post-production.
UN.GIFT: How has the film been received so far? What sort of support have you received?
JVDH: So far the reactions have been impressive. Often people who have seen "Lilet Never Happened" tell us it is one of the most gripping films they have seen so far and they say it makes you start thinking and that it urges you to come in action. Even though it is not completely finished we have already found an international sales agent, Media Luna. We have also received positive response from international film festivals; we hope to have some more news about the festivals soon.
The famous Belgian singer Milow has agreed to make the title song for "Lilet Never Happened". We are so proud that he wants to be involved and from the start of our cooperation Milow has been personally involved.
We are supported by the humanitarian organisation Terre des Hommes, they believed in the project from the start and are a great partner to work with. Furthermore we are supported by the Dutch Ministry of SZ & W, the NCDO, the Dutch Embassy in the Philippines and some private investors. But any help is still welcome!
UN.GIFT: What needs to be done in order to ensure that "Lilet Never Happened" never happens again?
JVDH: I think, what we also show with the film, that it is a difficult problem that will not be easy to solve. Because at the basis the problem for a lot of the children who end up in the prostitution is poverty. Children are being sold by their parents because they need the money, or children who end up on the streets because of poverty are forced to work in the prostitution. Off course what would help is if the crime of child trafficking is more punished. You now often see that governments turn a blind eye on this subject. They ignore the problem and do not prosecute the people behind this crime. That is also why we named the film "Lilet Never Happened", never happened because so often it is denied that child prostitution takes place.
But you definitely see that the last few years more and more governments are becoming involved. Also it is good to see that countries are starting to work together to fight human trafficking.
UN.GIFT: Can you tell us a little more about yourself - what's you're background?
JVDH: Before I started working as a producer for "Lilet Never Happened" I worked for different humanitarian organisations including an organisation that is involved in trying to solve the problem of child prostitution. I am also one of the founders of Kampala Cycling, an organisation that provides cycling activities to support the development of individuals and their communities in Kampala, Uganda. Besides my work for humanitarian organisations I also have a sport management office together with my partner.
Jacco Groen was 18-year-old when he shot his first 35mm short film "Vadertje Tijd". He studied at the R.I.T.C.S. in Brussels and at the NFTVA in Amsterdam. He won several awards as a scriptwriter, and as a film director he made more than ten 35mm films. With his short film "Solina" (1994) he won three prizes at the Berlin International Film Festival. He is the managing director of Spring Film and co-founder of the Spring Film Foundation. "Lilet Never Happened" is his first feature length film.
UN.GIFT: Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
JVDH: I will start working soon, together with the co-producer Mike Downey, on a new documentary named "Streetkids United II". The documentary "Streetkids United II" is a follow up to the documentary "Streetkids United". "Streetkids United" was about a team of homeless children, chosen to represent South Africa in the first ever Street Child World Cup, who see football as a way to a better and brighter future. Streetkids United II will coincide with the 2014 Street Child World Cup in Rio. The documentary is a co-production with Film and Music Entertainment, TVZero in Rio and directed by Roberto Berliner. It will be in association with the Street Child World Cup.
Jacco is busy with his next film project. The script winning film, "Where is Daddy". Furthermore Jacco and I are planning to make a documentary together.
For more information you can visit the website: www.liletneverhappened.com
And watch the trailer to "Lilet Never Happened" here:
All photos courtesy of Springfilm.