295th Meeting – Tuesday, October 16th 2007

 “Sacrifice” - The Story of Child Prostitutes from Burma

A talk and documentary film presentation by Hseng Noung of the Shan Women's Action Network (SWAN)

Second showing of the documentary to an audience of more than 80

 “Sacrifice” (1998) is a 50-minute documentary produced and directed by Ellen Bruno.

Each year thousands of young girls are recruited from rural Burmese villages to work in the sex industry in neighboring Thailand. Held for years in debt bondage in illegal Thai brothels, they suffer extreme abuse by pimps, clients, and the police.
The trafficking of Burmese girls has soared in recent years as a direct result of political repression in Burma. Human rights abuses, war and ethnic discrimination has displaced hundreds of thousands of families, leaving families with no means of livelihood. An offer of employment in Thailand is a rare chance for many families to escape extreme poverty.
Sacrifice examines the social, cultural, and economic forces at work in the trafficking of Burmese girls into prostitution in Thailand. It is the story of the valuation and sale of human beings, and the efforts of teenage girls to survive a personal crisis born of economic and political repression.


Gold Apple
National Educational Film Festival

Grand Prize
Religion Today Film Festival, Italy

Golden Spire Award
San Francisco International Film Festival

Documentary Film Competition
Sundance Film Festival

Jury Award
Charlotte Film Festival


These reviews reflect the compassion and empathy with which the film was made, and the impact of “Sacrifice” on those who watch it.

"Sacrifice counterpoints forthright tales of four young prostitutes with mesmerizing images: a woman standing in a door frame awaiting her fate juxtaposed with farmers cultivating the fields. The images make a poignant plea for survival, both of the exiled women and the tormented land."
        — Andrea Alsberg, Sundance Film Festival

"Sacrifice offers a view of the terrible odds faced by women born into poverty where the only commodity for sale are their bodies. These are complicated stories that get beneath tabloid headlines to capture, with great visual invention, the dignity and damaged nobility of young Burmese victims. The lives of these women are revealed to be the stuff of fairy tale… the magic goes bad and the witch, the ogre, and the monster win the day in this chilling view of sexual exploitation…one we have never seen before."
       — B. Ruby Rich, San Francisco Bay Guardian

"Compelling interviews and beautiful photography create a complex portrait of economic conditions in Burma, and the impact this has on families, rural villages and the young women themselves."
       — San Francisco International Film Festival

“Unflinching in its account of abuse and corruption, SACRIFICE derives much of its power from the testimonies of four girls, who speak directly to viewers with a painful directness beyond their young years. Bruno demonstrates an exceptional ability for conveying the complex facts and emotional upheaval of globally relevant true stories. In the sobering yet poetic Sacrifice, Bruno presents the terribly moving first-person accounts of four young girls from Burma who were virtually kidnapped from their homes and forced into a life of prostitution in Thailand. As with all her films, Bruno approaches difficult issues with the intent of uncovering hard truths and giving voice to people who are too often marginalized or misrepresented by mainstream media."
       — Steven Jenkins, FILM/TAPE WORLD

"Sacrifice illuminates a difficult subject of major social consequence with integrity and objective attachment. Told with delicate simplicity, Sacrifice paints a picture of an unfamiliar reality that is, by turns, unbelievably ugly and startlingly beautiful. The heartbreakingly eloquent words of the girls lead viewers into a society whose mores are almost completely alien to our own."
       — Laurence Vittes, The Hollywood Reporter

 Hseng Noung introduced the film and afterwards answered questions from the audience about the making of the film, the women portrayed in it, the current situation vis-à-vis trafficking of young girls, and the role of SWAN and their projects in Burma.   


Ellen Bruno

Filmmaker and international relief worker Ellen Bruno has spent much of the last 20 years in Southeast Asia. She began her relief efforts more than 25 years ago in Mexico, working in remote Mayan villages. Since then she has worked in refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodian border, as field coordinator for the International Rescue Committee, she served for four years as director of the Cambodian Women's Project for the American Friends Service Committee. She has been a hospice worker for the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, providing bedside assistance for people dying of AIDS and cancer.
Ellen completed a Master’s degree in documentary film at Stanford University in 1990. Her first film SAMSARA, her Master’s thesis at Stanford, documents Cambodian life in the aftermath of Pol Pot's killing fields. SATYA: A PRAYER FOR THE ENEMY is based on the experiences of young Tibetan Buddhist nuns who have been imprisoned and tortured for their nonviolent protests of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. SACRIFICE is the final installment in her Asian trilogy. All three films premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
Ellen was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1998, a Rockefeller Fellowship in 1997, fellowships from the Western States Media Arts, and a Shenkin Fellowship from Yale University School of Art.

Ellen Bruno’s website: www.brunofilms.com

Hseng Noung – Assistant director of “Sacrifice”

Hseng Noung was born in Hsipaw, Shan State in Burma. Demoralised by the political situation in that country, she joined the Shan underground movement in 1977. She spent six years with the Shan movement before she came to live with her husband in Thailand.

She has worked as a freelance photographer since 1983. In December 1995, she became one of six human rights monitors from around the world to be honoured by Human Rights Watch for her work in helping girls and young women from Burma lured into the sex trade in Thailand, and in exposing the networks behind this deplorable trade in human beings. 

On March 28th 1999, Hseng Noung together with 40 Shan women founded the Shan Women's Action Network.

She is currently an advisory team member of the Shan Women's Action Network and is also a Presidium Board Member of the Women's League of Burma (WLB), which was established on December 9th 1999 and comprises 12 women’s organizations.

Website: www.shanwomen.org