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Pearl Gluck, center, talks to actors Regina Westerviller and James Gagne, Jr. on the set of 'The Turn Out.' (PROVIDED via Pearl Gluck)

Q&A: Former OU professor to bring film back to Athens for International Film and Video Festival

A former Ohio University professor will bring a film she shot in Athens back for the Athens International Film and Video Festival.

Pearl Gluck, who was a visiting assistant professor of film at OU from 2012-14, filmed The Turn Out in the Athens area with a crew mostly made up of students. The film will be shown Wednesday at 5 p.m. as part of the the festival. 

“This film could not have been made without my students,” Gluck, who wrote and directed The Turn Out, said.

The Turn Out is a narrative film that tells a story of a trucker who meets a girl who is trafficked for sex. The film is based on interviews with sex trafficking victims. 

The Post talked to Gluck, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, about the movie and the upcoming screening at The Athena Cinema, 20 S. Court St.

The Post: What’s it going to be like to have a film you shot in this area shown in the theater that is in this area too?

Pearl Gluck: This is exactly why I’m excited about this screening. I feel like we’re taking something home. Unfortunately, the students that worked on it, most of them aren’t there anymore, but a lot of people who are in front of the camera … they all live there. They’ve been through aspects of the story there and in the area and are part of the solution as well. For example, the woman that plays the main character, Nevaeh, which is “heaven” spelled backwards, is played by a woman named Regina Westerviller, and she went to school at Ohio University. It was a very big deal actually that she went to college. She’s one of the only ones in her family to go. Her older sister went. They struggled with a lot of the same issues, maybe not sex trafficking specifically, but some of the underlying causes that we were looking at in Chauncey. For her, it was a huge opportunity that she was given by Ohio University to go to that school and to have that education. Now what she’s doing with that education is she’s working at the Ronald McDonald House. So she’s into social justice and activism. … She talks about how the film really changed her point of view on the power of art and also the ability to work through some things using the arts. I think it was a very formative experience for her, especially now as she works with children.  

TP: What about the sex trafficking stories made you want to turn it into a narrative instead of a documentary? 

PG: Because my background is in documentaries, I could have done that. I could have taken some of the stories that I was collecting and turn it into a documentary. There were a couple of things: One, I had started to look more into fiction and my relationship as a filmmaker to fiction, and as much as I am committed to the authenticity and the actual stories that drive the way I end up telling (The Turn Out), I also really wanted to explore the underlying causes of trafficking and look in places otherwise my camera couldn’t have gone as a documentarian, or it could have but it would have taken much, much longer because you have to develop a level of trust when you’re doing documentary and getting into the homes. 

So in this case I developed trust with people who shared their stories with me. Then, when I was recreating some aspects of it, they would look at those scenes and be like, “Yes. No. Yes. No.” Jennifer Kempton — the film is actually dedicated to her because she has passed away since from a lot of the struggles that she talked about after being trafficked, one of which is addiction. … She had looked at a couple of my scenes, and she told me that certain things weren’t quite done with a level of awareness that it would have been if it was someone who was a survivor. So those sort of things really helped. 

Also, in the case of this particular story, really looking at the relationship between our opioid crisis here in this country and domestic trafficking and understanding how those two are so intricately tied. That also is something with a documentary approach would have taken much, much longer, whereas, if I can write these scenes the way that they were shared with me, so that was one reason. 

The other reason is because I really wanted to tell the story of a bystander, someone who really perceives themselves as one. I really wanted to look at the people who create the demand and believe they are innocent in the process. If someone actually hires a prostitute, ... regardless of how one might feel about prostitution, they need to understand the role they play in trafficking because what they’re doing is they’re creating the demand. Again, it’s not the only demand — it’s part of it. So the reason I actually got interested in the subject is because I had known a trucker, who actually ends up playing the trucker (in the film). … A lot of the people that I interviewed to share their stories agreed to be in the film. Combining that first reason, which is there are certain ways in which I couldn’t have shown certain things because there is no way I would’ve been able ... to show, so that’s No. 1. No. 2, to do a story about a bystander who thinks they’re a bystander and they realize they are in fact part of the problem. That by hiring, that created the demand. 

But finally, as I was coming up with this idea of writing a fictionalized script based on stories using a trucker, people who shared their stories all agreed to be part of the film, many of them did, and that was very inspiring to me. I was new to directing actors. Directing trained actors is one sort of thing; directing untrained actors is another. … In some cases, it worked really well, and in others you can really see the generosity of the actors. They had been through something and they really want to share it. That’s basically what you’ll see on screen. It’s a doc-fiction in some sort of ways.  

TP: How did you kind of blend the nonfiction with the fiction aspects?

PG: Not easily, but with a lot of satisfaction in the end. There’s a lot of challenges in cutting a documentary film from footage that you collect in the first place, and a lot of the writing and rewriting happens in the editing room. So with a fiction film, it’s also just as hard. The problem is that you really can only use the scenes that you’ve written. So I give a lot of credit to my editor, Kristan Sprague. He’s an award-winning editor and I wanted to work with him. … With Kristan, it took about a year and a half to cut it because we had to rewrite tremendously. When we showed the film in Columbus, Ohio, where some of survivors of trafficking live who I interviewed and some of the people that were in it, they were like, “Whoa where’s my scene?” A lot of the stuff had to either be moved or recontextualized. 

TP: What are the advantages of filming on location versus filming on a soundstage?

PG: That comes back to my documentary approach. I think it was very important for me to be in the locations. First of all, it feels a certain way, and second of all, it looks already … like what you’re talking about. You can with millions of dollars, but you can’t really recreate the feeling you get when you go into some towns in Athens County and ask yourself, “What happened to our economy?” And to have that feeling, it’s like a picture already asks that question, and what part can we play in reviving this because it’s valued history here and these storefronts are abandoned and they’re empty. What part can we play in bringing our economy back to where it’s got to be? And what parts did we play in pulling it apart? And understanding that that level of disregard for the needs of our children living in these towns is going to lead to issues like this. The problem with the word “trafficking” is it feels so “other.” It’s a big word. It’s a strange word and we don’t know what to call it other than enslavement, but it literally means someone coerced into doing something in exchange for goods or money. … I think when you’re on location, you can see, not to excuse it by any stretch, but to look at “How do you get there? How do you get to that level of desperation?” and sometimes walking into some of these environments, you see it. And you go “Oh, this is where we can start to address the problem.” … Again, it’s not a documentary. This is not an instructional video. It’s really just about the visceral experience of seeing what happens at that moment. This is where we’re at, and this is what’s happening. 

The other is the location of the truck stop. Phillis (Bibbie) is awesome. She plays the trucker who owns the truck stop, and she was actually the manager of the truck stop. Once again, not an actress. … She was kind enough to let us shoot there and make it happen at the Liberty truck stop. So, here’s a truck stop that is dark, that is lonely, and that really instantly gives you a sense of why certain people might be lonely and why they might want to reach out for company, whether it’s commercial or not. Again, to understand how the demand might happen in the most “innocent” ways. I say that completely devoid of judgment because sometimes it takes the location to get a story instantly told in just that one moment. So you see a man sitting alone, drinking his coffee at a truck stop cafe and you go, “All right, I get it. Now what can I do to help him or her understand they’re part of the system?” … And people say that only happens in India or wherever, it doesn’t. It happens right here on our doorstep, and that’s why location is so important too. It’s right here in the United States. 

TP: You’re a writer and a director, and that’s kind of the trends I’ve been seeing right now. You have a lot of writers who direct movies too. What are the perks of directing a film you wrote?
PG: I’m really very much an indie filmmaker, not that I would mind to kind of find a less DIY approach, but this is very much an “indie-indie” film. In that sense, it didn’t just require to write and direct it, but producing it as well. Other than getting it done, there aren’t many perks. … I think when you’re writing something that’s true to you, sometimes you’re doing it so that you can make the film. There are plenty of writers that write the film just because they want to write it. That’s it. And then you’ll find that some directors are thinking, “If I’m going to make this film that’s so close to my heart, I might just write it.” But I can’t speak for all of them, but in my case, I really enjoy the writing process, especially this one. And now with my next film, I won’t be rushing into shooting it, so we’re really thinking about the level of getting it done a certain way. You always want to grow and learn in your craft, so that’s what I’m doing. I’m pushing myself. I’m going to write it, and I’m going to direct it because it’s something that is very close to my heart.


Clarification: The photo caption was updated to clarify that Pearl Gluck was talking to actors on the film set of The Turn Out.

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