'In Plain Sight': Mill Valley Film Festival Review

Courtesy of Mill Valley Film Festival
Meandering feel-good documentary doesn’t do justice to pioneering activist-photographer

Documentarian Erica Jordan follows photographer Lisa Kristine as she travels the world to chronicle and expose modern-day slavery

Still photographer Lisa Kristine uses her camera as a tool to expose the injustice and cruelty of modern-day slavery in such far-flung locales as the Sonagachi slum in Kolkata and the gold mines of Ghana.

A documentary about her work is a welcome idea, but Erica Jordan’s In Plain Sight isn’t it. The filmmaker’s own breathy narration, and a glossy and intrusive soundtrack, lends the doc a New-Agey air that detracts from Kristine’s credibility and hard-hitting humanitarian work.

The hour-long In Plain Sight — not to be confused with a sex-trafficking documentary and a USA series with the same name — is in the lineup of the Mill Valley Film Festival and the United Nations Association Film Festival, and with luck may find legs on cable or public television.

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Despite her patrician looks and blonde hair (and a resemblance to Naomi Watts), Kristine does an admirable job of seeming to blend in wherever she goes, thanks to her friendliness and curiosity. But she also demonstrates a steely persistence — the photojournalist’s best weapon.

Kristine's experiences were the inspiration for Sold, Jeffrey D. Brown’s 2014 dramatic feature film starring Gillian Anderson, and her work has been endorsed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Queen Mother of Bhutan and Amnesty International. Her photographs of enslaved workers also inspired the Make a Stand Lemonade movement, which has reportedly raised more than $1 million toward the eradication of slavery.

Read more Gillian Anderson on the "Intolerable" Sexism in Hollywood, Society

Kristine recounts a trip to a 130-degree outdoor brick factory in Nepal, where she shoots images of workers — most of whom are paid paltry wages or are slaves outright — lifting hundreds of pounds and toiling in the red dust as their children play, or work, nearby. When her digital camera became too hot to touch, she ran to her driver’s air-conditioned car, where she was able to cool it off by placing it directly under a vent. 

“My equipment was getting far better attention than these people,” Kristine notes. “I felt a punch, like witnessing something that was so wrong.”

In other sequences, Kristine takes a secret camera into a Kolkata brothel, and accompanies trafficked prostitutes in Washington, D.C.

Jordan (Walls of Sand, Painted Nails) does not answer questions that a curious viewer would have about the details of Kristine’s life as a working mother, or about her choices in cameras and compositions. In Plain Sight also goes wrong when its slavery narrative jumps around — from gold-mining to brick-making to prostitution — never delving into any of the no-doubt fascinating stories of Kristine’s subjects in detail.

Production company: Pivotal Eye

Writer-director-narrator-producer-director of photography-editor: Erica Jordan 

Consultant: Elana Yonah Rosen

Dialogue editor: Miik Dinko

Sound design: Dave Nelson

Music: Dave Nelson

Not rated, 57 minutes

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