New York filmmaker to begin work on second movie in south-central North Dakota
"Trapped" is inspired by a young woman’s story of sex abuse and human trafficking
GRAND FORKS — It was a chance encounter in a convenience store in rural North Dakota that eventually led an East Coast filmmaker to make a movie about sexual abuse and sex-trafficking in this state.
Ejaz Khan, a filmmaker, conservationist and photographer based in New York City, plans to begin filming that movie Wednesday, March 1, in Linton, he said.
“Trapped” is based on the story of a young woman, who, as a teenager, ran away from home to escape abuse, only to fall under the control of sex traffickers in Bismarck.
Khan met the woman a few years ago while making his first feature film in North Dakota, “Before They Vanish.” They were customers in a convenience store.
“She was barefoot,” recalled Khan, who was filming at a ranch near Linton. “It was sometime in April or May — not cold weather, maybe 50s or 60s.” He offered to buy her coffee.
“We started talking,” he said. She asked what he was doing there; later she showed up on his set, and was a “very respectful” observer, he said. They continued to talk. He asked what she wanted to do with her life.
“She was probably in her mid-20s,” Khan said. “She gave me the story of her life.”
As she was growing up, she told him, her alcoholic, drug-using mother would bring boyfriends home; one of them raped her.
“She thought this was normal, until she grew up,” Khan said. “When she realized it was wrong, she ran away from home, and fell into the hands of sex traffickers (who) took her around for six years, and they sold her.
“She got into a big, big, big mess,” Khan said. “But she (got) herself out of it; she ran away … and now she’s trying to put her life together.”
The woman wishes to remain anonymous, he said.
Khan found her story “fascinating,” he said, and it became the inspiration for “Trapped,” a fictional narrative film about sex abuse and sex trafficking in a small town in North Dakota.
Most of the actors in his two North Dakota films live in the Linton area; the locals are not experienced actors, he said. The few professional actors in the films are from New York.
“I have met amazing people (in North Dakota) – people who are very warm, very different from New York,” Khan said. “New York is a very driven place.”
How the New Yorker found North Dakota
In his early 20s, Khan left his native India to pursue a career as a fashion photographer in New York. He later branched into wildlife photography, focusing on the beauty of animals, especially endangered wildlife and horses, and the environmental changes they face.
Khan has traveled to “extreme environments” – such as Alaska and the North Pole, according to his website – to photograph and bring back fine art images for art-lovers to display and enjoy at home. He has also traveled to France to photograph horses on ranches that his friends own.
Khan exhibits and sells pictures of wildlife – including wolves, horses and birds – in his New York gallery, and donates a portion of the proceeds to horse-ranchers or foundations that support the awareness and conservation of wildlife, he said.
A few years ago, during an art opening in his gallery, a woman approached him, saying she had heard that he “donates to the people in France,” he said. “And I said, yeah, because that’s where the horses are.
“And she gets a little upset about it,” he recalled. The woman, who lives on Long Island, asked, “Why are you giving money to France? Why can’t you give money to our own horses over here in America? We need the money here too.”
“(She) turned out to be a huge horse advocate,” who ran a foundation dedicated to their welfare, Khan said. She put him in touch with the owner of a large herd of horses in North Dakota — Frank Kuntz of Linton. From there, one thing led to another.
Kuntz eventually signed on to appear in Khan’s first film, “Before They Vanish,” as did Paul Silbernagel, of Bismarck, owner of the farm where Kuntz shelters 300 horses. Members of Silvernagel’s family also appear in the film. Paul’s wife, Barb Silbernagel, a retired English teacher, helped write the script for “Before They Vanish,” a drama about a veteran who is dying from cancer due to exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. The veteran is struggling with the question of what will happen to his horses after he dies.
Barb Silbernagel also helped write the script for “Trapped,” the filming for which should be completed by the end of March, Khan said. He expects the two-hour film will premiere in Bismarck in December, with a second premiere in New York.
Khan plans to give away a three-day trip to New York for the premiere. To enter the drawing for the trip, register at his website, www.ejazkhanphotography.com . The winner will be notified by email.
Purpose of the film
Khan hopes “Trapped” will raise public awareness about sex-trafficking in North Dakota, he said. “It’s here. It happens, not just in North Dakota; it happens in America. This is our home, and we like to put things underneath the rug and say it’s not happening here, it only happens in Third World countries, but that’s not true. It happens here.”
Khan has interviewed 82 girls “who have either gone through or still are in the trafficking business,” he said. One common thread runs through all the stories of girls who were raped at an early age.
“I interviewed a girl who was 11 years old when she was raped – by her own father, by the way. She thought it was normal; she thought that that’s what fathers do, until she grew up and found out that was not what father’s do,” he said. “Can you imagine that?”
In interviews with girls and women who are victims of sex-trafficking, Khan found that 50% were sexually abused earlier in life, he said.
Khan wants “Trapped” to encourage “more of an open conversation in families – more so than schools, I believe – which will make the child a little more open to talking with their parents,” he said.
“The better question for the audience is, how can they stop this,” he said. His goal in making the film “Trapped” is simple.
“If one girl doesn’t run away from home and stays in her house and speaks to her mom or speaks to her dad or speaks to someone who’s good to her instead of running away,” he said, “I would feel very successful.”