We sat down with rising female Director Wendy Wilkins to discuss her film “Death on the Border” after seeing it premiere opening night of the Beverly Hills Film Festival. The scripted drama tackles the dire global crisis around sex trafficking and features stars Danny Trejo, Eric Roberts, and Shannon Elizabeth.
PPLA: What is the movie about and what inspired you to write and direct it?
WW: It is about two women, an ex-cop, Shannon Elizabeth and a cop , Kika Magalhães , who form an alliance to fight back against domestic violence and sex trafficking of children. They seek the help of Father Francis, Danny Trejo, to help them fight against dirty cops , Eric Roberts and Frank Whaley, and cartel operatives.
It is inspired by true events from when I was a young cop and I was inspired by true events to write this feature to shine a light on this subject matter, but I didn’t want to make a movie that was going to be a depressing and tragic narrative following a sex trafficked child but to inspire and give hope. The two women characters in this film empower themselves to stand up and make a difference, despite the consequences.
I didn’t intend to direct the film, I actually wrote the female roles with myself in mind, but was convinced to direct the feature and play the role of Adele, the house shelter mother.
I wanted to show that domestic violence can touch anyone, even a cop and also child trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world and I believe if one person watches this movie and it helps to make a difference and so on.
PPLA: It’s based on true events from when you were a cop. You worked back in Australia and this film takes place set on the Mexican border but what are the similarities and themes that are universal?
WW: Yes, I wanted to show that domestic violence can touch anyone, even a cop and also child trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world and I believe if one person watches this movie and it helps to make a difference and so on. These themes are universal and also the feeling of being overwhelmed as a police officer sometimes is also universal. Are we really making a difference?
PPLA: As you mentioned, you have a great cast with some known names on board! How did they get involved?
WW: The screenplay reached the quarter finals of the emerging screenwriting competition and Danny and Shannon were offered the roles and came on fairly quickly. Shannon is an activist herself and she was inspired by the subject matter and she wants to direct also. She also was excited that she was offered a role that was a more juicy role for an actress to play.
Danny is a well known philanthropist and passionate about protecting people. We also had some fun conversations about me being an ex cop.
Eric Roberts is a big fan of indie filmmakers and so is his wife Eliza, and they were fully excited to come on board with the movie with the subject matter and that I was a female director, writer and that it was inspired by true events. We also had some fun conversations on set about me being an ex-cop and it was such a joy to see Eric bring my words to life. Eric works on big movies, he had just come off working on Babylon playing Margot Robbie’s father and the first season of “The Righteous Gemstones” which he said he was really enjoying.
Eric and Danny were excited to be working together also as I was told it was a reunion for them after Danny told me Eric helped him get his first movie role on “Runaway Train,” when Danny was on the set working as a boxing trainer.
PPLA: Why is it important to highlight the issues of sex trafficking/human trafficking?
WW: As mentioned it is the fastest growing crime in the world and through a narrative roller coaster ride rather than a documentary, I hope that it makes people talk and discuss and it sits with them long after they see the movie.
PPLA: You mention the message is empowering- can you elaborate? What do you hope people take from the film? Any specific calls to action for the audience?
WW: There is a conversation that my character, Adele, and Shannon Elizabeth’s character, Maddy, have in the movie which I hope is empowering. People can feel overwhelmed by all the crime etc etc but if every single person made a difference, kept a lookout, took a stand then the world would be a very different place.
I hope that it encourages in people not to give up but to keep making a positive difference, not bury your head in the sand and also the most I hope for is that if someone has suffered or is suffering from domestic violence or in a trafficking situation or has escaped but still feel the trauma, to feel that they are not alone, which is empowering in itself.
One of the girls who played a young sex trafficked child (it was her first feature), Aria Perry, even wrote a song about girl empowerment which we used in the movie. It’s called “Girls” and it is so beautiful and powerful. Wow, some of the young talent today!
Her aunt, Joan Kelly Walker, is a long time activist in this area and she flew down from Canada to be at the prestigious Beverly Hills Film Festival premiere and afterwards came up to me and said there were more things she will look for now from watching the movie.
There was also an actress who had been sex trafficked twice that read my script early on and thanked me for writing this. These are my empowering moments that help me keep going because we had obstacles to overcome to get this movie made including some attempts by a couple of people that should not be in the industry and just want to suck it dry. Fortunately there was mostly a lot of support to get this movie to the finish line from some wonderful people in the industry too.
PPLA: What’s coming up next for the film?
WW: We have distribution which will be announced soon and hopefully we will be able to announce where you will be able to view the film later this year. We only entered the completed feature in one festival, the prestigious Beverly Hills Film Festival which just happened recently and was held at the Mann’s Chinese theater, where they have the Oscars. It premiered as part of its opening night films. They only choose very few features out of the hundreds of entries (mostly shorts and screenplays) so it was a big deal for us and a chance for some of the actors, producers and crew and supportive friends to come and see the finished movie. It was an overwhelmingly exciting night with a full house. We were surrounded by a lot of filmmaker talent and it was a wonderful night.
PPLA: What’s next for you as a director?
WW: I have a number of projects in various stages of early development, including a family musical. I am working with my music supervisor/ composer, Jennifer Wilson.
I am also working on developing my memoir of my five years as a young cop, “Sex, Love & Cops” into a series. I see it like “Sex and The City” but with cops. Also, an animated series about a group of Australian animals saving a farm from a developer in Australia. My projects are quite diverse but all with a message threaded throughout without hitting people over the head to hopefully make the world a better place, one person at a time 🙂
If we can see things a different way on the screen, maybe we will be a little less judgemental, prejudiced, and realize we are all human and human kindness should be what we lead with.