Dreamscape’s video and film program allows us the opportunity to work with award-winning filmmakers in order to ensure their breathtaking creations reach global audiences. One film that we are proud to represent at Dreamscape is the gut-wrenching story about human trafficking, I Am Still Here.
In I Am Still Here, Layla is ten years old and about to meet her new family. She just doesn’t know it yet. An act of kindness met with deception leads to Layla’s abduction and descent into a life of human trafficking hidden in an ordinary neighborhood. Seven years later, Layla is discovered lying half-dead in an alley, unable to speak. Detective Amy Walker helps Layla untangle the memories of her horrific past to bring her perpetrators to justice so that Layla can start anew.
Starring Johnny Rey Diaz, Erika Ringor, and Ciara Jiana, I Am Still Here is a story of hope and redemption told through the eyes of a seventeen-year-old girl recovering after her escape from seven years in captivity.
We had a chance to speak with the filmmakers — writer and director, Mischa Marcus, and producer, Stephanie Bell — about I Am Still Here:
What inspired you and motivated you to write the script for I Am Still Here? Was it a particular story or event?
MISCHA: As I was writing my first screenplay, I wanted to dig deeper into the news stories with headlines such as Police busted this brothel, or These children have been rescued in this sex trafficking sting. I wanted to dive into the story behind the headlines. One individual’s story resonated with me: Jennifer Kempton. She was branded [with the initials of] her trafficker, just like Layla is in the film. Many girl are marked like this, like they are a piece of their captor’s property. Jennifer tragically passed away, but established the non profit Survivors Ink, an organization in Ohio. Through this initiative, she assisted young girls and women in transforming their ‘branding’ into beautiful tattoo works of art, providing them with a chance to break free from the constant reminder that they were once considered someone else’s property and giving them an opportunity at a fresh start.
Could you talk about the research that went into writing I Am Still Here, such as personal accounts, law enforcement advisement, etc?
MISCHA: I did live interviews with 20 trafficking survivors ranging in age from 10 to 33 years old, along with 3 trafficking organization directors. I interviewed the head of the Vice Unit responsible for the human trafficking division for LA County, Lt. Andre Dawson. I also spent 2 years researching the subject matter back in 2012-2014 and started writing the script in 2014.
Mischa, did writing the screenplay help you with directing the film? And vice versa: did you find that knowing you would direct impacted how you wrote the screenplay?
MISCHA: Writing the script was definitely harder than directing it, just because of the research that went into it, specifically the interviews that I conducted with some of the survivors who were as young as 10 years old – realizing their experiences were not fiction but, in fact, were their own realities.
When revealing the narrative for the movie, we flash back and forth between Layla’s current situation and her past. This seems to help us, as audience members, reconstruct Layla’s story in the same way that she is. Was this how the script was originally written?
MISCHA: The script consistently incorporated flashback sequences, a deliberate choice made to underscore how her past experiences intricately shape and influence her present state. The utilization of flashbacks serves as a pivotal storytelling tool, allowing the audience to gain a profound understanding of the impact her history has on the unfolding narrative.
How have you heard how this film has impacted those who have seen it?
STEPHANIE: One huge impact we are particularly proud of is that we were informed by one of the film festival directors that we inspired the opening of a shelter to rehabilitate sex-trafficked youth in Oklahoma.
We also have been asked to speak at multiple universities where students studying social work and criminal justice are shown the film and then participate in a Q&A with us. The film is being used to help train and prepare them emotionally to handle these difficult cases.
Mischa continues to be asked to speak on the subject across the country after a very active two years on the festival circuit.
Finally, we know that we are having an impact because our Facebook page is still flooded with messages and comments from viewers five years after we first premiered. Many have shared information with us about what is happening not only around the country, but the World.
Librarians, you can also order the DVD edition for your library from Midwest Tape.