Review – The Spreadeagle Pub Cinema: The Whistleblower
Sometimes, in this vast metropolis, there is so much going on artistically and otherwise, that it can be hard to spot what’s sitting on your doorstep. When you do see it, it can be a nice surprise, like finding out a free cinema event is being held every week in a pub just a short bus ride away. Other times it’s a bit of a shock, like finding out the pub is in is one of the largest ports for human trafficking in the UK. I learned this at Croydon’s Spreadeagle pub earlier this month, at a screening of The Whistleblower organised by The Croydon Community Against Trafficking, or CCAT. With one of the biggest indoor sex industries in London, Croydon is home to brothels in which over 80% of the women working are likely to have been trafficked. And that’s a sobering thought for people like me, who previously thought of Croydon as a good place to nip down to for a massive M&S and a quality fruit and veg market…
Now you might imagine a cinema event framed by the sinister world of sex slavery would be a sombre affair, and no doubt there was a serious message being dealt with throughout the evening, but the tone was surprisingly optimistic, and I left feeling sobered but empowered.
The venue itself, The Spreadeagle, is indeed a charming pub, and an ideal space to hold a movie night. The room upstairs that they use is good and spacious; separate enough from the main activity of the pub so as not to be disturbed by it, but still well-connected to the necessary amenities (i.e. you can get to the bar easily). There’s a good selection of ale, plus tasty tea for sober sisters on a school night like me, and food available, which you’re welcome to take into the screening.
CCAT began with a short introduction to their work, and indicated an information stand to the right of the screen, which is reassuring when you have an inkling a film is going to hit you pretty hard in the justice zone. It’s one thing to feel inspired by art; it’s quite another to feel so incensed by a portrayal of true events that you might burst without at least a flyer to carry away with you.
The Whistleblower illustrates the reasons behind CCAT’s work much better than a presentation or press release could. Released in 2010, it stars Rachael Weisz as Kathy Bolkovac, an American police officer who takes a job as a UN peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia. Initially buoyed by the thought of helping rebuild a shattered nation, Kathy is shocked to discover a world of institutionalised prostitution involving young trafficked girls. Aided by Head of Office Madeleine Rees (Vanessa Redgrave), Kathy begins to unravel a thread of corruption that leads right back to the organisation she’s working for.
This movie achieves a rare feat – depicting a story based on horrific real-life events that not only manages to avoid heavy moralising (the morality of the acts is clear: there isn’t one) but is able to present the story with pace and drama. The script is well-constructed, and the direction and editing create a fast-paced thriller that doesn’t let up on impact. If it wasn’t for the persistent tug at my mind that this was really happening out there; I’d call it a ripping yarn.
The scenes of violence themselves are handled in a way that’s hard-hitting and illustrative without feeling salacious or voyeuristic. Everything depicted is in service of the story, and for such an important story, authenticity is key. The real triumph was that the filmmakers managed to give us a ‘happy ending’ of sorts, knowing an audience would need something to counter the sense of despair. They couldn’t give us a celebratory ending, because the sex trade has no simple solution, but the particular D-Day style success of Kathy, in that she achieves a kind of victorious retreat, gives us the stick-it-to-the-man moment we need to feel galvanised ourselves. We may not be able to stop institutionalised violence and sexual slavery as individuals, but we can damn well tell the story of what’s happening in the world, and tell it over and over again until enough of us are prepared to do something about it.
The Spreadeagle Pub, Croydon, hosts free film screenings every Monday at 2.30pm and 8pm. See http://spreadeaglecroydon.co.uk/cinema for listings. Find out more about CCAT’s work and how you can help at www.theccat.com.