Coming Attractions

Films search for a way forward at Vail Film Festival

A look at the second virtual festival


Movies have never been more accessible than they are right now. With the constant announcement of new streaming services and studio acquisitions, movies can feel like disposable “content,” instead of projects people pour themselves into for years at a time.

You do not get that feeling at all at the Vail Film Festival. The 18th annual festival, which ran from Thursday, Sept. 23 through Sunday, Sept. 26, featured about 80 films (all streaming online) and I was able to catch 13 during the festival’s four days. And I felt the dedication and passion in every frame of every film I watched. It was obvious they were made by people who really, truly wanted to tell their story.

Aside from showcasing works from female filmmakers (a key part of the festival’s modus operandi), a theme I noticed running through everything I saw was people and places trying to forge a path forward in a rapidly changing world.

The topic was dealt with overtly in documentaries like “Gianni Berengo Gardin’s Tale of Two Cities,” “Hog Town,” “Into the Light with Cite Memoire,” “The Revolution Generation” and “The Sound of Us,” all of which chronicle the way real people and communities are working to deal with issues ranging from climate change to population shifts and healing a divided world.

And then there are films like “D-Rep: Fight for Life,” “Everything in the End,” “Highway One,” “planet b234,” “A Savannah Haunting,” “Voodoo Macbeth” and “We’re All in This Together,” which bring viewers close as a whisper to people (both real, fictional and a blending of the two) who are looking for some kind of steady ground on which to move forward.

No film I saw better encapsulated this than Christina Zorich’s heartrending documentary, “The New Abolitionists,” which follows three nonprofit organizations - Extreme Love, NightLight and Tamar Center - fighting human trafficking in southeast Asia. It’s an issue that has tendrils everywhere in the world, even in the Denver metro area, and the film celebrates the survivors of this horrific system, the work being done to shut it down and how far there is still to go. It’s a personal look at people - and a world - badly in need of a better path forward.

The New Abolitionists Trailer from Christina Zorich on Vimeo.


I spoke with Zorich about her film, getting access and how people can help survivors of trafficking.

Interview edited for brevity and clarity.

What inspired you to make this film?

I met an anti-trafficker who had started a nonprofit and was going to need help with fundraising materials. At that point I didn’t think of myself as a director, but as time evolved things changed. It took time to figure out what project I wanted to self-produce, which I had never done before. But this [issue] wasn’t on a lot of people’s radar and I felt driven to figure out how it was going on.


How important was it to give context to what’s going on in the region?

At-risk groups are where this happens, and at-risk regions are where this is rife. If the family unit is broken, there’s a history of trauma, abuse, abject poverty or a country where there’s less infrastructure to help the poor and needy, it can happen more easily. But there are various ways it can come about - it’s hard to pinpoint one reason and so we tried hard in the movie to give numerous reasons. It’s easy for us to judge from a position of privilege, but if you come from a slum or place with gutted infrastructure, there’s no real way out. It’s hard for us to fathom in this country, even when it’s happening here.


What are the biggest challenges facing those who are doing this work?

In a way, the nonprofits are dealing with the back end of all of this. The source of it is a much deeper issue - one on a national, state and local level. There needs to be pressure to stop these criminal industries at the source. I think people need to get to a place of activation so action can be taken on every front.


You saw so much darkness making this film. What gives you hope?

I was deeply moved by the resilience of the healing spirit. The level of betrayal and trauma and hurt that these women went through, and then you see some of them becoming leaders and making a change toward a healthy life. And we learned that other people are needed [as part of the healing process] - a community is needed for that kind of healing to happen.

To learn more about the film, how to contribute to the fight against human trafficking and more, visit


Clarke Reader’s column on culture appears on a weekly basis. He can be reached at


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