It was Justin Dillon’s passion and profession that unexpectedly exposed him to the dark underworld of the international slave trade. He’s a musician, and his band was touring through backwater cities in Russia when a young female translator began talking about an upcoming extraordinary opportunity she had to come to the United States. When he asked for more details, he discovered that what she thought was a great opportunity was instead an elaborate and nefarious seduction — the kind of effective ruse targeting vulnerable young women around the globe.
The musical documentary Call + Response is Dillon’s ambitious and masterful artistic counterattack to an all-too-easy-to-overlook enemy who still sells men, women, and children like commodities to the highest bidders. The grainy, undercover film footage taken in Asian brothels is interspersed with the testimony of eloquent activists such as Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission and actress Ashley Judd, as well as performances by the Cold War Kids and Matisyahu, the Orthodox Jewish reggae artist.
According to Dillon, it is not as if he tapped his speed-dials in order to call in favors from his celebrity friends: He really didn’t have any. Instead, he began cold-calling managers and agents. It worked. The film features performances by Natasha Bedingfield, Moby, Five for Fighting, Imogen Heap, Talib Kweli, Switchfoot, and the incomparable rapper Emmanuel Jal. As a child, Jal was taken from his family in Sudan in 1987 and trained to serve in the rebel army, Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). In almost five years, Jal fought in two civil wars as a child soldier. He was later smuggled out of the country by a British humanitarian. Jal began rapping to express the repercussions of his experiences.
In the midst of the rock and rap, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, actress Daryl Hannah, and Kevin Bales of the activist group Free the Slaves etch out the scope and enormity of human trafficking — what the film refers to as “the world’s 27 million most terrifying secrets.”
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