Award-winning sex trafficking film at festival
Virginia Beach actor to screen award-winning sex trafficking film at festival
Ana Roshelle Diaz, an actress from Queens, N.Y., plays Bottom in “Groomed.” (Courtesy of Reyes Productions)1 / 2
Four years ago, Virginia Beach-based film and television actor Angelo Reyes was stuck in a job slump. He decided to boost his career by developing his own projects.
He kept an eye out for stories he could turn into scripts, then productions. One night he turned on local TV news and watched a report that horrified him.Advertisement
Five “pimps” had been arrested in Virginia Beach. Three of their victims, ages 16 and 17, were rescued from forced prostitution.
“I was shocked to learn that there was human trafficking in my own backyard,” he said.
That kicked off two years of research, and led him to Tanya Gould-Street of Portsmouth, a survivor of human trafficking who had started her own nonprofit, Identifiable Me, to help victims.
She explained to Reyes how vulnerable girls can be lured into the dark world of sex trafficking, often through friends who lead them to a person who manipulates and abuses them into accepting the unacceptable.
It’s a widespread problem. The National Human Trafficking Hotline reports that Virginia has seen more than 1,120 labor and sex trafficking cases since 2007.
“We get our numbers from people who report,” said Gould-Street, who is a member of the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. “Because of that, the numbers aren’t accurate,” she said. It likely represents a small percentage of those who are caught in the trap.
Reyes folded Gould-Street’s experience and insight into his 18-minute dramatic film, “Groomed,” which is set for its East Coast premiere on Thursday at the Richmond International Film & Music Festival. She is a producer of the film. “Groomed” will be among other short films to be shown back-to-back at Byrd Theatre starting at 9:15 p.m.
In early April, at the Beverly Hills Film Festival in California, “Groomed” won the award for best editing. It has also won prizes from online film fests, including the Accolade Global Film Competition (awards of merit for best short film and best Asian American director).
In 2015, Reyes had one aim. “My primary goal was to write stories that featured Filipino characters,” he said. The film opens with a Filipino mother and daughter speaking Tagalog, the native language. He plays Ricardo, a Filipino trafficker.
His Italian Filipino heritage has made it tough to land roles. When he jotted “Filipino” under ethnicity, he got calls to audition for characters that looked more Japanese or Chinese. He learned Spanish so he could land Latino roles, which proved a better match for his appearance.
Reyes studied acting in Virginia Beach, where he has lived from age 10, and in New York City. For two years he drove each week from the Beach to Manhattan for classes.
Though he didn’t study directing, it came naturally due to his previous career in advertising and marketing. He often created presentations involving a vision and a team.
For “Groomed,” he said, “I knew what I wanted. I just needed the right people to put it together with me.”
With only a $10,000 budget, he led a small crew and cast last year, and finished editing in August. Shooting sites included the Virginia Beach Oceanfront and a Kempsville home.
He made the film without nudity. He thought of Alfred Hitchcock’s editing style as he suggested rather than showed sex and, most critically, a rape.
For the rape scene, he filmed the victim and the rapist separately, to make the actors more comfortable. “That was magic editing right there,” he said. “You piece those two together and it actually looks like they were in the room at same time.”
He guessed that the scene snagged the film’s best-editing award.
Reyes has entered 51 film fests, which continue into October. He’s hoping to collect enough kudos to attract investors. He wants to make a full-length version, with a budget around $1 million.
As he worked on “Groomed,” Reyes acquired a goal larger than his own career. “I want to create awareness and let people realize that pornography, strip clubs and legal prostitution all contribute to human trafficking. The entertainment industry glorifies these things,” he said.
Any youngster, even those from nice families, can be drawn in. “When you’re 12 or 15, you can be gullible and think this person really cares about you.”
Given the stakes, he said, “It’s time to really wake up.”
if you go
What: East Coast premiere of “Groomed” at the Richmond International Film & Music Festival, which runs April 23-28
When: 9:15 p.m. April 25; festival is April 23-28
Where: Byrd Theatre, 2908 Cary St., Richmond
Tickets: $10 plus $1.53 fee, 804-219-0675, www.rvafilmfestival.com