Victoria-based journalist and activist Jody Paterson [above], along with educator and retired sex worker Lauren Casey, sought to change the nature of the sex trade in Canada with the first healthy, safe, co-op brothel. The documentary The Brothel Project follows these dynamic women as they teamed with Harvi and Mia from indie escort agency VIP. Over six months, the foursome faced challenges and disappointments in their quest to create a  better brothel. Producer and writer of The Brothel Project, Gillian Hrankowski, discusses the film and how it stirs up many questions about sex work and its conditions.

Related: Pictures from The Brothel Project

Q: How did you come to write and produce The Brothel Project?
April Butler-Parry was a new director who had a great idea and an interested broadcaster. Global recommended she get a producer fast. I had just had a documentary broadcast on Global and we had a great relationship. So they suggested April speak to me about helping her take it to the next level. She and I met, we hit it off extremely well and the rest is documentary history.

Q: What do you think of their attempts to change the sex industry with a co-operative spatial model?
Jody and Lauren are two very dynamic women ... the types of individuals that don't let the status quo stand in their way. The co-op model was an ideal and they went for it. If you take the word "brothel" out and think of it just as any normal business, nobody would bat an eye.

Q: Tensions developed with booking agent Harvi, independent escort Mia, and Paterson and Casey.
Again, when you take any business and have four strong personalities try and team up, tensions aren't surprising. The power struggle just grew and grew before our eyes. And when you look at Mia and Harvi's roles, that's why we even ask the question can it be possible to create the ideal model given the strong personalities involved?

brothel_project_inset_lauren.jpgQ: In writing the project, what did you think of the research undertaken in New Zealand, a place that decriminalized sex work in 2003?
New Zealand was a truly fascinating aspect of our journey. As filmmakers we want to take viewers into worlds where they may not otherwise have access. We are their eyes and ears. I hope we portrayed what Jody and Lauren [left] perceived -- that even when it's decriminalized, it's not a cake walk. Some of the women are young and inexperienced in making big life decisions, and it was difficult to watch.

And on the other side of the coin, the public attitude was so casual about it and no judgements appeared to be made about what these women did for a living. One of the madams told us that with it being decriminalized nothing was different, she just had more paperwork; while some sex workers expressed how much safer they felt and what a huge difference the legislation did for their physical and mental health. Again, so many coins and so many sides.

Q: With the sense expressed that even with decriminalization, the realities still aren’t perfect, what do you think can be done to work for social, legal changes around sex work?
In New Zealand one ballot tipped the scales when MPs voted for decriminalization. It takes people who believe to rally together and take a stand. And not stop taking a stand until they get the results they want.

Q: The film poses an interesting support system, like workers' compensation. Do you think things like medical and dental plans could be widely possible?
This film proves medical and dental plans are possible.

Q: What do you think of the structural challenges met by the core group in the process, like the issue with attempting to do business through a traditional bank?
The bank's decision was based on their own risk, which is fair. However, the issue with the bank is a prime example as to why there is so much secrecy and therefore mystery and therefore judgment to sex work. We wanted people to see under the veil and be able to make decisions about their own opinions based on how the story unfolded. And to step up and fight for what they believe, no matter which side of the fence they sit on. Being above board would mean changing the legal structure and again, sitting on the fence isn't going to help any side of the issue.

Q: Were credit unions, other funding sources different in terms of seeing this as an actual business, without the moralism?

The bank experience was the only banking experience we had. We didn't see that some institutions viewed it the same or differently. I don't know where or how VIP is keeping their money now.

Q: What do you think of the petition arising in the course of the narrative against VIP?
I was certainly surprised that there was so few anti-brothel voices out there as we started our journey. In a deleted scene, Jody addresses a group of middle-aged women in Kamloops, British Columbia. We were certain that someone would protest, but got nothing but true blue support. Then when we talked to the mayor of Victoria and got his stance. And we continued to be shocked at the thumbs-up from so many other people in the city. We thought Jody might just pull it off! When the petition showed up, we realized that the naysayers were just quiet naysayers. I only hope that everyone realizes that to make a change no matter your opinion, you have to have a voice and take action. And Jody certainly has a voice for team brothel.

Q: What happened in terms of the fall-out from the petition?
As shown in the film, the company stopped efforts to become a co-op brothel out in the open and the attention from the petition forced the VIP business underground to operate as an escort agency. I don't know if they are still up and running.

Q: With the film out, do you know if Jody and Lauren would want to revisit the development of such a space eventually?
Everyone is staying pretty quiet given the buzz but I certainly hope that when they are ready, they'll take steps toward decriminalization. As Jody says in the film, that is the route that she has to take given what happened when she tried what she tried.

Q: What do you think of the community and media response to this film, which suggests extending sex worker rights?
My point was to create a dialogue with this issue that has many grey angles. I think everyone is closer to being in agreement than anyone thinks. It's just finding that same page. It's interesting to me that now that the film has aired, many of the people opposed have come out of the woodwork to complain. A lot of postings are hot-headed instead of discussion-based. And while a lot of their complaints are about the issue, they didn't like what the film explored. And that we explored it at all!

If people are afraid to truly explore the issue then we are no further ahead than to a time when women were not allowed to vote. We showed what we saw and showed the truth. So if people care about women's safety in the workplace then they will challenge the current laws and use what they learned in the film as fuel. If people are opposed, they will have watched the film and learned the truth about what they are opposing and can speak without ignorance.

The media response has been fantastic and I hope people continue to ask questions so they can create their own opinions and create a society based on knowledge and not guess work.

Q: The film was nominated for a best documentary Leo award recently. Are you interested in working further with documentary and sexuality changes?
Absolutely. The more I can bring to light the truth about society and challenge misconceptions, the better. We don't all have to be the same in this life and have a united opinion. But if we don't know the truth about what we are talking about, then our opinions truly can't be counted properly. Being the eyes and ears for viewers is what I truly love about making documentaries.

The Brothel Project is now streaming online on Global.

Related: Pictures from The Brothel Project

5 Comments | Add a Comment
Interesting! Thanks!
a work of sexual seriousness, cool
Is there a reason you used a photo of Lucky Bar? last i checked that was not a brothel.
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