Category Archive for: ‘Michael Ferguson’
Directed by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin
This film is a public relations piece for organized criminal rackets operating internationally between Russia and the Far East. I couldn’t quite figure out why this film was made. It is a pack of lies and misrepresentations from beginning to end. The proof of this is in the film itself and I will point it out to you, although the film tries to cast itself as something benign or even benevolent. But it is such a thin veneer that it is almost laughable. This is quite obviously sordid and sinister. The more I think about it, the darker and more frightening it becomes. It’s very curious what was motivating these filmmakers?
It starts out in Siberia, of all places. Really. The opening scene reminded me of a factory farm where animals are kept in large warehouse-like facilities by the hundreds and thousands being raised in close quarters for slaughter. Except these are girls between the ages of about twelve and fifteen. Their bikini covered bodies are examined one after another in a seemingly endless assembly line, supposedly in search of some ideal of feminine beauty that will be successful as a model in Japan.
From the outset it is apparent that this is a scam. If these self appointed mavens of the fashion world actually knew as much as they claim about the tastes of Japanese publishers and fashion, then there would be successful models to interview to validate the success of their judgments. But there are none. The only adult woman interviewed in the film is Ashley Sabin, one of the filmmakers, who seems deeply ambivalent about the modeling business and who said that “no one hated the modeling business more than me.” Yet she is now a recruiter for the enterprise she once despised, and she doesn’t seem all too pleased with herself.
I spent the first part of the film wondering why this was taking place in Siberia? I’m not sure I’ve got it right, but Siberia is an out of the way place and far from media attention and public scrutiny. The population is mostly rural and economically challenged, let’s say, and probably unsophisticated in their knowledge of the outside world. It’s a good place to do something if you want to keep a low profile, and there is evidently a large pool of naive young girls who dream of escaping to a better life in a faraway place.
Tigran, the supposed owner of the modeling agency that recruits the Russian girls and transports them to Japan, is the paradigm of a smooth talking con man. He presents himself as something a few pegs below sainthood, giving these deprived girls from rural Siberia an opportunity to live an exciting life as a model in Japan and make a lot of money for their struggling families. But this avatar of his organization is belied on a number of counts, and once quite explicitly and threateningly, which I found very interesting, and a bold intimation of what he is really all about.
First of all, there are no successful models who can be held up as examples of what he has can accomplish for a girl. A successful agent should have successful clients as examples of his capabilities and judgment, and he doesn’t have any.
Second, the contract that the girls have to sign with his agency is actually quoted on screen, and promises them two jobs in Japan and $8000. But Madlen and Nadya, the two girls followed in the film, do not get jobs, and leave Japan at least $2000 in debt — to him. So they are lied to and swindled.
Third, the contract specifies that the terms of the contract can be changed from day to day at the will of the agency. This means that there is no contract, that they are basically working at his whim.
Fourth, once the girls are in Japan, he does not attend to them in any way. They are passed on to Japanese handlers who send them on an series of fruitless auditions that amount to nothing. If they do get work or their photos are used they are not paid for it, and he does not see to it that they are paid. There is not one named Japanese advertising agency, publication, retail business, or fashion house in the whole film that has used the models that this agency has represented. Not a single one.
Fifth, and most tellingly, he relates how some young girls can be”difficult” — Lord knows — and in order to subdue them, he takes them on an outing to the morgue, so they can see the dead bodies of other young girls like themselves. Purportedly, this is to discourage the girls from drug use. Tigran vouches for its powerful effectiveness. But if this is such an effective technique for keeping young girls off of drugs, maybe we should start doing it here. Why hasn’t anyone here ever thought of this after so long in the War on Drugs? Maybe we should start organizing field trips for young girls to visit morgues to see the bodies of other young girls who died from drug abuse? Perhaps this film does have one valuable insight to offer that can turn young girls’ lives around.
Actually, this is intimidation of the most heavy handed sort. This is to let the girls know that ‘you belong to us, now. We own you. And you’d better do as we tell you, or this is your destiny.’ It is a very stark choice, and he means it. He admits that he used to be in the military and that he has killed a lot of people. He wants you to know that he is capable and experienced at killing people. The military part of it is questionable, but that this man is a killer I have no doubt. This guy is intimidating and very dangerous.
The scam works like this. Girls from poor families in rural Russia are recruited by the Russian Mafia. Ashley works as a scout and a recruiter. She gives the whole process its veneer of benign legitimacy. The modeling tryouts and the search for the ideal of feminine beauty are a sham. What they are really looking for, and Tigran says this explicitly, are girls from disadvantaged backgrounds whose families have financial problems. He said they check the girls out very carefully in terms of their background and their family circumstances. They are looking for girls with the right kind of vulnerabilities. Once they find an appropriate candidate, they are lured to Japan or Taiwan or somewhere else in the Far East with the promise of a successful modeling career. But, of course, that does not happen. The girls are treated miserably. They barely have enough to eat. They have to call home to get money to live on. They get no jobs. If their photos are used, they are not paid for it. After a while they are sent home several thousand dollars in debt to the “modeling agency.”
The one instance where Nadya’s photo does appear in a magazine is one where her face is covered. Why is her face covered? With her face covered she can’t be identified. We don’t even know for sure if that is her. This “modeling agency” does not want anyone to see their models in a magazine. They don’t want anyone to know she was ever in Japan. They want her to remain invisible. What about all the tryouts and photo shoots? Some of the photos may indeed be used, but probably not in Japan, and she will never be paid for any of them. What is really going on here?
This is recruitment for prostitution. Prostitution is where the real money is, not modeling. The criminal gangs have no illusions. Very few girls can make much money modeling, but almost any girl can make substantial money as a prostitute, even a gray mouse like Nadya. That is what this is about, ladies and gentlemen. This is why the film you saw doesn’t make sense, and why it is hard for me to figure out why it was even made in the first place. The “modeling agency” is just an elaborate cover. The few thousand dollars spent on sending the girl to Japan and shaking her loose from her family is the mob’s initial investment, their startup cost. Once the girl is working as a prostitute, she will make that back and more in a very short time.
The first step is to get the girl deeply in debt. Once she is in debt beyond her ability to repay, and her family unable to bail her out, the Russian Mafia makes her an offer she can’t refuse. Remember that girl you saw in the morgue? We spent a lot of money to send you to Japan or Taiwan on those fruitless modeling tryouts, and we expect to get that money back. You’ve proven that you can’t make money as a model. But we’ve got a surefire way for you to make money, but it is not exactly modeling. It’s a little different, but another way of selling your body.
Ashley Sabin talks a little bit in the latter part of the film about prostitution and how some girls who fail as models end up going that route. She points out how some countries and cultures do not stigmatize prostitution and claims it is a perfectly legitimate way to earn a living. She professes not to know anything about that aspect of the modeling business, and claims she has nothing to do with it herself. This is very likely a lie, along with the lie we see her relating in the next few moments to Russian parents of prospective recruits that the girls from her modeling agency never return to Russia with debt, when we have just seen two girls from her agency return to Russia with thousands of dollars in debt. So her credibility is zero, and her capability and effectiveness at deception is documented right before our eyes. Some women are able to deal their way out of the prostitution aspect of the business by acting as recruiters of younger girls. That could be Ashley’s story, but she speaks very good English and appears to be an American. Perhaps those qualities were seen as more valuable assets that working as a prostitute. Ashley is a bit of a puzzle, but there is clearly much that she is not telling. It is evident that she has very mixed feelings, but apparently strong survival instincts, and she is doing what she has to do.
At the very end of the film in a textual postscript, we are told that Nadya went back to Japan the following year — a rather surprising turnaround given her disagreeable experience the first time — but maybe not, if you consider the scenario that I have painted. We are told that she failed again to achieve success as a model and racked up still more debt and was sent on to Taiwan and China and other places in the Far East. It did not tell us what she was doing or how she was living, but I think we can make a pretty good surmise that she is not making money as a model. If she was, then they would have pictures and publications and advertisements to show us as evidence of her success. But rest assured, she probably is making money, and more than she could ever make modeling, but she is not getting much of it. Ask Tigran where the money goes.
This film leaves me puzzling. Not about what is going on. That is very clear. But what were the filmmakers intentions in making this film? What were they trying to accomplish? They didn’t seem to be able to bring themselves to tell the real story, so they concocted something half-assed, that intimated very obliquely what was going on, and left a lot of loose ends dangling nonsensically, but they never really pursued the matter in any depth. And they promoted a viewpoint that they knew very well was a lie. They seem afraid to really follow this where it is leading, — understandable, actually — but if they don’t want to tell the story, why make the film at all? The people and organizations running this operation don’t usually like to be the subjects of documentary films. Why would a guy like Tigran appear in this film? Did he really think that people would buy his tale about his having such a good heart and doing this for the good of the girls, when the film plainly shows that that could not be true in any shape or form? Did they delude themselves into thinking that this would encourage young girls around the world to want to become models? I don’t get it. It must have something to do with the relationship between Ashley and Tigran. I think she is very much afraid of him. I can’t even speculate about it.