THIS WAS IN THE NINTIES!

We dressed up as sporty people carrying sports equipment in sports bags but in those bags, we had hidden a huge U-matic camera and a big heavy recorder and 25 video tapes each being about 25cm long and 5 cm high (those times they were huge)! We also hid a really big stand for the camera. Crazy but we knew we would not get a filming permit. Our subject was child labor and child prostitution.

This was my first real documentary after I studied video making in New York. Trade Union Solidarity Centre of Finland ordered this doc and off we went with my Londonese friend Emma Doubell being an audio person as I was to film. In Bangkok airport we had to pass very official military-type personnel who were standing on both sides of a pedestrian line through customs. It was scary but we were not stopped!

I had researched and contacted local NGOs working with these issues via normal air mail. Those times it was the only possibility. So once in Bangkok, we had people to talk to and ask for advice. We were offered a seat in a van which regularly went back and forth between Thailand and Malaysia to look for kidnapped children. We decided to stay in the city and start looking for evidence of child abuse there.

HIDING IN A RAILWAY STATION

As we saw that young boys were brought by train in groups we decided to hang around the main railway station 24/7 and film them. Local taxi drivers were linked to this system and they soon noticed us. One came to offer “a free trip” around Bangkok. We declined and decided it was time to move on.

We found small waiting rooms where boys were taken and everywhere in the streets, you would see kids working in small workshops! Often with very dangerous-looking machines, too. Very big brothels were also everywhere and to be noticed with neon signs and having children in them.

In the sex industry area of the city, we bought one girl and interviewed her. We found out that buyers go to Northern Thailand to small villages to offer work for kids in exchange to a fridge for the family, for example. Of course, it is never told that this is sex work!

It was painful to find big tents in the outskirts of Bangkok in which girls were sitting on huge rotary wooden levels ready to be picked up by rich buyers, looking a lot like Arabs. We certainly did film this very secretly from outside the tent through small holes in canvas so as not to be caught. 

DIVING DEEPER

We wanted to understand more and joined in international conference for child trafficking. We learned the routes they use. Heard of lawyers who help in rescue cases to return children to their families. Up in Northern Thailand there was one beautiful healing center for young people who had been rescued. It felt really good to film there!

We also went to the Chiang Mai area and looked for skills training centers for indigenous children which were run to try to prevent them from leaving South. These girls were so innocent and so shy, all dressed in indigenous clothes, that comparing them to outrageous girls in the  Bangkok sex tourism area made me realize that drugs are used to change their behavior.

Thailand was quite chaotic those times. We could not leave our equipment anywhere so one of us had to always stay behind when another one was sightseeing a little bit. Loved those temples and canals but our subject being so serious that month was quite dedicated to work.

We found a street boys´ home in Bangkok. Boys were free to come and go and many were heavily addicted to glue sniffing. We had lots of fun there playing football and hanging around. I felt like staying there. Could I be of any use? Later I had an inner revelation that in each country there are born people to help locals and my place was not there.

We went to the slums to see if there was anything done for the kids. Surprisingly we found a school there that was trying to keep kids in order. Somehow I left with hopeful and hopeless feelings at the same time. Some people in NGOs believe that kids working in factories is a necessary intermediate stage to improve Thailand towards a more modern society.

DO I SAVE TAPES OR THE CAMERA?

We had a Russian Aeroflot plane to take back home via Moscow as it was the cheapest one to book. We couldn’t take both our equipment and 25 huge video tapes as carry-on baggage. Which ones to be ready to lose? We decided to take tapes with us. Good for us as we got stuck in Moscow airport for a few days due to missing a connecting flight. Finally, we got everything back in Helsinki in one piece, including us!

We made about an hour-long documentary SOS.STOP for SASK. As we had so much extra material filmed we decided to make another one being more like a very long music video as Emma was a techno DJ those times. This we edited in London and this one you can watch below. From the original one, I unfortunately only carry a bad-quality VHS tape!

Heartware – Childworkers in Thailand  
“Music video version” of an original documentary SOS.Stop
Filming, research, script and direction: Seija Hirstiö / Heartwaves Design
Soundtrack: DJ Echomiss
Editing: Seija Hirstiö, Raimo Uunila, DJ Echomiss
Paintings: Marita Liulia
1991

Seija Hirstiö
Documentarist
Designer
Artist
Contact
seija(at)heartwavesdesign.com

I have expressed myself visually since early youth, with film, photography, online videos, graphic design, web design and performance art.

Please see my visual portfolio for web sites and videos here.

 

I have expressed myself visually since early youth, with film, photography, online videos, graphic design, web design and performance art.

Please see my visual portfolio for web sites and videos here.

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