The harsh reality of sex crimes committed during times of war is too much for most audiences to bear, writes Vicky Roach
SOMETIMES truth is not only stranger than fiction but also a lot more unpalatable.
Larysa Kondracki, director of political thriller The Whistleblower, says she had to tone down the full extent of the sexual atrocities uncovered by Nebraskan cop Kathryn Bolkovac during her time as a United Nations peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia or audiences wouldn’t have been able to suspend their disbelief.
‘‘ I wanted people to end up angry, but not angry at the filmmaker,’’ says Kondracki, who spent two years in Europe researching the story with screenwriting partner Eilis Kirwan.
‘‘ I didn’t want people to say, ‘ What did I sit through that for?’ I wanted them to think, ‘ Why didn’t I know this was happening and what can I do?’
‘‘ One of our challenges, in writing the screenplay, was how to make it digestible for the audience. So the scale of the violence and the numbers [ of those involved] was completely toned down.’’
And while The Whistleblower makes it clear that even high-up UN officials were involved in the sex slavery scandal outed by Bolkovac in October 2000, the widespread nature of the behaviour within the respected organisation was also underplayed.
‘‘ We barely scratched the surface of what was happening,’’ the filmmaker says.
‘‘ And is still happening – in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone. Just follow the peacekeepers. Anywhere there are people going in with a large amount of money and very little accountability, that’s where sex trafficking is popping up.’’
Despite Kondracki’s efforts, early critics still accused her of sensationalising her story.
It wasn’t until reports in respected US publications such as Time magazine and The New York Times that people began to take notice. Recently, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon acknowledged the film, announcing that a screening would be held at UN headquarters on October 10.
Kondracki chose to shoot the film like a ’ 70s conspiracy theory – with Rachel Weisz ( pictured) in a role that might once have been played by Meryl Streep to help audiences understand the complex world into which the single mother is abruptly catapulted when she signs a lucrative contract with the UN to police international law.