|Directed by||Larysa Kondracki|
|Produced by||Christina Piovesan
|Written by||Larysa Kondracki
Nikolaj Lie Kaas
|Editing by||Julian Clarke|
|Distributed by||Samuel Goldwyn Films|
|Running time||112 minutes|
The Whistleblower is a 2010 thriller film directed by Larysa Kondracki, written by Kondracki and Eilis Kirwan, and starring Rachel Weisz. The film was inspired by the account of Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska police officer who was recruited to serve as a UN peacekeeper with DynCorp International in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1999. While there, she discovered a sex trafficking ring that serviced and was facilitated by various DynCorp employees. Bolkovac was fired and forced out of the country after attempting to report and shut down the ring. She subsequently took the story to the BBC News in England and won a wrongful dismissal lawsuit against DynCorp.
Kondracki wanted her debut film to be about human trafficking and came across Bolkovac's story while in college. She and Kirwan struggled to obtain the financial support needed to go forward with the project. Eight years after Kondracki decided to produce the film, production was able to begin when Weisz signed on to play the lead role of Bolkovac, securing the necessary funds. Filming took place in Romania from October to December in 2009. Advertised as a fictional dramatization of the events of the late 1990s, Kondracki states that the broad facts are accurate but that some of the details were omitted during the production. For example, she chose not to show the three-week "breaking in" period the trafficking victims are subjected to.
The Whistleblower premiered at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival and was distributed theatrically in the United States by Samuel Goldwyn Films in August 2011. The movie drew mixed responses; Weisz and her costars received praise for their performances, but the intense violence depicted in several of the scenes became a subject of debate among reviewers, with some criticizing it as exploitive. Kondracki and Weisz responded that what had happened in Bosnia had actually been toned down in the film portrayal. The Whistleblower received several awards and nominations, including for the 2012 Genie Awards.
Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) is a police officer from Lincoln, Nebraska who accepts an offer to work with the United Nations International Police in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina at a UK company called Democra Security (a pseudonym for DynCorp International). Upon fighting for a trial for a Muslim woman suffering from domestic abuse and succeeding, Kathryn is made head of the department of gender affairs.
Meanwhile, Raya (Roxana Condurache), a young Ukrainian woman, and her friend Luba (Paula Schramm) are sold to a sex trafficking ring in Bosnia by Raya's aunt's husband. Raya escapes along with Irka (Rayisa Kondracki), another girl who was forced into prostitution. Both are sent to a women's shelter specifically set up for the victims of sexual slavery. While investigating their case, Kathryn is able to uncover a wide-scale sexual slavery and human trafficking ring that various international personnel, including those of the United States, have participated in. She persuades Raya and Irka to testify against their traffickers in court by promising that they will be safe, but an indifferent UN official drops Irka at the border between Bosnia and Serbia when she is unable to produce a passport. A corrupt peacekeeper tips off the traffickers, and Raya is recaptured and tortured. Though Kathryn manages to rescue a terrified Irka in the woods, the latter is too afraid to go forward with the trial.
When she brings the scandal to the attention of the UN, Kathryn discovers that they have covered it up in order to protect lucrative defense and security contracts. She nonetheless finds allies in her investigation in Madeleine Rees (Vanessa Redgrave), head of the Human Rights Commission, and in Internal Affairs specialist Peter Ward (David Strathairn). When Raya is later found dead, Kathryn sends an email entitled "Do not read this if you have a weak stomach or a guilty conscience" to a 50 senior mission personnel detailing her findings. She is subsequently fired from her job. She and Ward capture evidence of an official admitting to the scandal before she is forced to leave the country, and she brings it to the BBC. It is said in the ending credits that following Kathryn's departure, a number of peacekeepers were sent home, though none faced criminal charges because of immunity laws. It is also noted that the United States continues to do business with private contractors like Democra Security, including contracts worth billions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- Rachel Weisz as Kathryn Bolkovac
- David Strathairn as Peter Ward
- Nikolaj Lie Kaas as Jan
- Anna Anissimova as Zoe
- Monica Bellucci as Laura Leviani
- Vanessa Redgrave as Madeleine Rees
- Benedict Cumberbatch as Nick Kaufman
- Roxana Condurache as Raya Kochan
- Paula Schramm as Luba
- Rayisa Kondracki as Irka
- Liam Cunningham as Bill Haynes
- Demetri Goritsas as Kyle
- David Hewlett as Fred Murray
- William Hope as John Blakely
- Stuart Graham as McVeigh
The Whistleblower is based on the experiences of Kathryn Bolkovac, an American police officer who was assigned to serve as a peacekeeper with the United Nations in post-war Bosnia, 1999. While there, she reportedly discovered a sex trafficking ring that serviced and was fostered by other peacekeepers. Bolkovac was fired after trying to investigate the situation but later won a lawsuit for wrongful dismissal.
Director Larysa Kondracki and her co-screenwriter Eilis Kirwan learned of Bolkovac's story while they were both attending Columbia University, eight years prior to the production of The Whistleblower. Kondracki subsequently devoted a significant amount of time to researching human trafficking and the sex trade. After contacting Bolkovac, who sold her the film rights for one hundred dollars, she resolved to get the story adapted into a movie, explaining, "I love documentaries, but I wouldn't even know how to make one." Financing for the project was initially difficult to secure, though it took off after Rachel Weisz signed on for the lead role as Bolkovac. "I was young and naïve," Kondracki relayed of her original attempts to secure funding. "I thought: 'Of course they're going to make my film. It's brilliant!'"
The Whistleblower was described as a "fictionalized dramatic presentation" of the scandal that occurred in the later 1990s. Producers based it on Bolkovac's experiences but not on her memoir. Vanessa Redgrave portrayed Madeleine Rees, a UN human rights official and "one of the film's few heroic characters" who assists Bolkovac in uncovering the sex trade. Raya (Roxana Condurache) and Luba (Paula Schramm), the two Ukrainian young women who are trafficked into Bosnia, serve as the primary representations of the trafficking victims Bolkovac encountered. Neither are based on any one person; rather, they are composites of multiple young women that were forced to work in Bosnian brothels. Kondracki's younger sister, Rayisa, also played a trafficking victim. For legal reasons, the pseudonym Democra Security was used for DynCorp International, the organization whose employees reportedly participated in and facilitated the sexual enslavement of the women.
Though the producers kept the movie factual, an issue arose about how much to include. Details on the bureaucracy were edited out because "it was too much information and, frankly, people were bored." Another concern was the extent of the violence shown against the sex trafficking victims in the film. Kondracki chose to bluntly portray the inhumane treatment of the young women, all of which she described as accurate representations of what had happened. This included a graphic scene in which Raya is raped with a lead pipe after her escape and subsequent recapture. Despite this, Weisz stated that she thought the reality of the situation had actually been toned down, saying, "In real life there were girls doing this as young as 8 years old." Kondracki reiterated that opinion and said that she had lightened the events depicted out of worry that viewers would "tune it out". She elaborated:
We show what is just about permissible to show. We couldn't possibly include the three-week desensitisation period, when they burn the girls in particular places. We couldn't really capture the hopelessness of life these women are subjected to.
Kondracki stated that her goal with The Whistleblower was "information and exposure" on human trafficking. "No one is putting pressure on governments to stop it, and there is no accountability. It's laziness."
The film is a Canadian–German coproduction, Kondracki being of Canadian nationality. Weisz first read the script when it was sent to her by producer Amy Kaufman two years prior to signing on as the lead role. Pregnant with her son at the time, Weisz initially turned down the offer but was unable to forget the story, which she says haunted her. Later, she contacted Kaufman and asked if the project was still available. She signed on after learning that it was, and shooting began in October 2009.
Kathryn Bolkovac visited the set in Bucharest, Romania, where most of the movie was filmed, and Weisz stated that she made a point to spend "every waking moment" with her in order to accurately portray her personality. Weisz and Bolkovac have dissimilar appearances; the former is dark-haired and slighter while the latter is "blond and much more voluptuous" and "much taller". As a result, the actress threw her focus into mimicking Bolkovac's accent and determination. Bolkovac later commented, "Rachel is an extremely intelligent and talented actress. But more importantly a very caring and kind human being. She was genuine in wanting to portray my character with as much compassion and empathy to the situation as possible. Rachel was a perfect pick for the part, and I am proud that she wanted to tell this story and work on the project."
Filming took around six weeks, which was relatively unusual for a thriller movie; according to Weisz, most take around three months to complete. Producers also used hand-held cameras and a lower budget than what is normally used for the genre. Kondracki stated that filming in Eastern Europe was crucial because "in a story such as this, it's more about what you don't see, so you need to create that world". The Transylvanian mountains in Bucharest, Romania substituted for the war-ravaged Sarajevo of the late 1990s. Scenes set in the UN buildings were filmed in Toronto, Canada. Most of the outdoors scenes are set during nighttime while daytime shots often appear bleak, gray, and overcast. This, coupled with the grainy texture, helped create a documentary feel.
An issue that Wiesz dealt with was separating herself emotionally from the atrocities that were portrayed in the movie. "It's something you learn," she relayed. "It's true between 'action' and 'cut,' and after 'cut' it's just not true anymore." Bolkovac echoed Weisz's sentiments and said that distancing oneself emotionally becomes a necessity while working on the police force. However, producers wanted the audience to be affected by the scenes depicting the brutal treatment of the women who were forced into prostitution, so the character of Raya was created to give a human face to trafficking victims. Much of the rape scene was later edited down after the brutality caused a viewer to faint during the film's first screening in Toronto. Weisz commented, "I completely understand. It would be just too harrowing for people to watch. What actually happened was so much worse. I mean the stories I could tell you from the first person who encountered these young women. That was the 'light' version if you can believe that. But it isn't a documentary, you don't want to destroy people. You just want to illuminate something that actually happened that was a hundred times worse."
The Whistleblower focuses on sexual slavery, human trafficking, and corruption. Kondracki had wanted her first project to be centered on sex trafficking but was unsure about how to create a moving plot and make it original. She originated from the Ukraine, her mother having been born there, and she aware of what she describes as the country's "epidemic" of trafficking. Victor Malarek's book The Natashas inspired her to produce a film on the subject, but, she said, "no one wants to watch a film of an enslaved girl being raped for two hours." Bolkovac's experiences gave her the framework for the movie and expanded the themes to cover corruption and cover-ups on a wide scale. Film critic Rex Reed stated that the abuse of power featured prominently, as numerous government officials are shown to either participate in the sex trade or turn a blind eye to it. This includes peacekeepers and members of the UN as well as private and international militaries. Wallace Baine of Santa Cruz Sentinel wrote that the way these aspects were portrayed made the movie "slippery and true-to-life" and that "there are clear and vivid monsters in this film, but there are also those existing in the shades-of-gray middle, nice-enough guys tolerating crimes of unspeakable barbarity." Justice, another prominent theme, does not materialize by the end. Raya is killed, and none of the peacekeepers who participated in the trafficking are prosecuted, though several are sent home. According to Wallace Baine of the Santa Cruz Sentinel, viewers are left with the impression that "the worst violence in Bolkovac's story was the violence done to justice".
Bolkovac herself is noticeably imperfect, a "noble but screwed up" individual. In the film, which roughly mirrors real life, her personal life is in disarray: she has lost custody of her children to her ex-husband and goes to Bosnia to secure more funds in order to obtain a transfer to live closer to them. While there, she engages in a casual affair with a fellow peacekeeper. Kondracki wanted to promote the idea of the protagonist as an average person who acted against an injustice when her peers chose to look the other way. Her flaws are off-set by her tenacity and determination to fight the sex trade. Reviewers found these aspects to be instrumental in making her a more three-dimensional character.
Weisz compared Bolkovac's story of "one lone woman fighting injustice" to that of the Biblical David and Goliath, which she identified as her favorite genre. In the film, as in real life, Bolkovac begins by investigating the single case of a kidnapped girl. As the plot progresses, she discovers a wide-ranging web of corruption and faces growing obstacles. The sex trade is facilitated by a large and influential organization. While attempting to report her findings to the UN and local officials, she receives threats and is "shunned by coworkers and thwarted by higher ups". Weisz explained that she liked the idea of an ordinary person doing something extraordinary. "I love it," she said, "I love that kind of thriller, the ordinary person who, because of their character, it's their character that leads them. As an actor, that's a kind of gift."
Release and box office
The Whistleblower was given an R rating for "disturbing violent content including a brutal sexual assault, graphic nudity and language". A sneak peek with exclusive footage was circulated in anticipation of the Toronto Film Festival premiere, which took place on September 13, 2010 with an audience of 1,500. Screenings were held at several film festivals in North America, among them the 2011 Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York. Samuel Goldwyn Films purchased the distribution rights to screen the movie in the United States and released a promotional trailer on June 2, 2011. The film subsequently premiered on August 5 for a limited release in six theatres, grossing a total of $1,124,966. It was released on DVD on January 15, 2012. The movie reportedly did better on Blu-ray than in theatres, and film critic Lynette Porter commented that the serious nature of the subject made it more suitable for the small screen.
Rottentomatoes.com gave the film a 74%, with a rating of 6.5/10. Out of 109 reviews, 81 gave it a positive review. Metacritic gave the film a 59 out of 100, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
The Guardian's Ed Vulliamy called The Whistleblower "the most searing drama-documentary of recent years", and The Huffington Post's Marshall Fine echoed that the story was "dark, grim, and harrowing". Stephenie Foster of The Huffington Post gave the film a highly favorable review, saying, "It's a compelling and maddening story, and reflects the complexity of how international institutions function and interact and the difficulty of accountability in a situation where people have immunity for their actions. But, it's also a story of gutsy people in tough and compromising situations making decisions that aren't in their personal best interest." An equally positive review was published in The Balkan Chronicle: "Kondracki shows great promise with her direction. Pacing is tight for the most part, and the film feels well polished...The film is unsatisfying only in its conclusion. This is not the fault of the filmmakers who choose to stay true to Bolkovac's story. No one was ever brought to justice. A few of men were fired and sent home, but everyone had diplomatic immunity so no one ever faced criminal charges. Two million people worldwide are still being trafficked." Doris Toumarkine of Film Journal International called the movie a "well-told but troubling story impressively wrapped for audiences who show up in theatres for do-good cinema of a high order" while Leigh Paatsch of News.com.au said that "it is Bolkovac's ferocious will to right so many wrongs (expertly channelled by Weisz) that keeps you glued to the screen".
Allison Willmore of The A.V. Club gave a more negative review; she criticized the producers for making the antagonists of the story one-dimensional, saying, "There's no hint of the erosion of morality that led to this point." Peter Rainer from The Christian Science Monitor described the film's pace as "frustratingly uneven" but commended the performances of the actors. Condurache, he said, "makes Raya's fears tremblingly palpable". Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote that the movie "tells a story so repellent that it is almost beyond belief. Its conclusion — that in the moral quagmire of war and its aftermath, human trafficking and corruption are collateral damage — is unutterably depressing." He praised Weisz's performance as "the strongest element" of the production.
The actors' performances as a whole received praise from reviewers; Camerin Courtney of Christianity Today was dismayed that the main character engaged in a sexual relationship with a married man but wrote, "Rachel Weisz is wonderful as Bolkovac, a no-nonsense civil servant who is stunned at what she walks into. Vanessa Redgrave is a needed touch of strength and warmth as her mentor Madeleine, and David Strathairn is at his government thriller best as Peter Ward, an Internal Affairs agent. Raya is heart-breaking as the young victim." Steve Rea of The Post and Courier commended Vanessa Redgrave's acting in the supporting role of Madeleine Rees as "forceful, elegant, precise". Mick LaSalle of San Francisco Chronicle said, "Weisz gives a psychologically astute performance as a woman who can't leave things alone." Rex Reed of The Observer agreed that she was "superb" in the lead role.
The graphic violence that Kondracki chose to show was a more controversial matter. Bob Mondello of NPR called it "sobering" but felt that it was more of a detriment to the film, thinking that the scenes should have been more subtle. Christian Hamaker of Crosswalk.com wrote, "The film is almost unremittingly grim, which may seem appropriate for such a horrifying subject, but the effect on the viewer is that of being struck repeatedly with a sledgehammer. Sex trafficking is bad. Really bad! Did you get that, or do you need to watch a few more scenes of physical and sexual brutality? Don't worry: The Whistleblower has those aplenty. It takes brutality into the realm of gratuitousness, all in the name of showing the horrors of the issue it's addressing. Ryan Rojas of Tonight at the Movies described the film as "gritty and merciless" and said that certain scenes could be offensive to some viewers. He continued, "While the scenes do work as reinforcing the horror of the events, it really just made it obvious that the way that the director was going to win over fans was to simply shock them into numbness, as scenes showing rape, mutilation, and murder are shown in very disturbing fashion."
|2010||Whistler Film Festival||Audience Award – Best Narrative Feature||The Whistleblower||Won|||
|2010||Whistler Film Festival||Phillip Borsos Award – Best Film||The Whistleblower||Won|||
|2011||Palm Springs International Film Festival||Audience Award – Best Narrative Feature||The Whistleblower||Won|||
|2011||Cinema for Peace Awards||Cinema for Peace Award – Justice & Human Rights||Larysa Kondracki||Nominated|||
|2011||Seattle International Film Festival||Golden Space Needle Award – Best Director||Larysa Kondracki||Won|||
|2011||Seattle International Film Festival||Golden Space Needle Award – Best Film||The Whistleblower||Nominated|||
|2012||Genie Awards||Best Picture||The Whistleblower||Nominated|||
|2012||Genie Awards||Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role||Rachel Weisz||Nominated|||
|2012||Genie Awards||Best Supporting Actress||Roxana Condurache||Nominated|||
|2012||Vancouver Film Critics Circle||Vancouver Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress in a Canadian Film||Rachel Weisz||Nominated|||
Response from the United Nations and DynCorp International
In accordance with Bolkovac's account, The Whistleblower portrays employees from DynCorp International as directly participating in the sex trade in postwar Bosnia and the UN as turning a blind eye to it. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, subsequently held a screening of the film and promised action would be taken to prevent more instances of human trafficking. Bolkovac said in response, "Unfortunately, the widespread horror is already there. This is not going to be simple or a quick fix." She also reported that in addition to Bosnia, peacekeepers had perpetrated human rights violations in Nigeria, Kosovo, Burundi, Sierra Leone, the Congo, Liberia, Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Colombia, Guinea, and Sudan. Kondracki added, "I'd like to say that this screening and panel will lead to genuine discussion and thought about the UN's involvement in sex trafficking and other crimes. I'd like to say that, but I do worry. I know we are going to hear a lot about what has been done since the time depicted in this film, but rhetoric only goes so far. The situation has escalated." Following the release of The Whistleblower in theatres, The Guardian reported that other UN officials attempted to downplay the events depicted, and initiatives against trafficking in Bosnia were aborted.
Ashley Burke, a spokesperson for DynCorp International, said in response, "I haven't seen the movie so I can't comment on its content, but I can tell you that, when we contacted the film's distributor to learn more about the movie, we were informed that the film 'is a fictionalized dramatic presentation' that while inspired by Ms. Bolkovac's experiences, is not based on her book. There was no threatened legal action taken to ensure they did not use the company's name in the film."
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