Florence Barkway is 27 and has been producing short-form content for VICE for a year. Previously, she worked as a camera technician on TV shows such as Doctor Foster and Jack Whitehall's Bounty Hunter, and commercial, corporate and feature films including Martin Amis’ London Fields.
WHAT’S SHE MAKING?
The five-minute film The Battle For Sex-Workers Rights, shot at a protest outside Parliament in London against the potential introduction of the controversial FOSTA-SESTA bill in the UK, which seeks to curb illegal sex trafficking online. Already signed into law in the US, critics say that the bill fails to adequately distinguish between coercive trafficking activity and the operations of those who work in sex consensually, making it harder for the latter group to find work and forcing them on to the streets where they’re more at risk of violence and exploitation. We spoke to Florence about the challenges of making such a film at short notice, with a small amount of preparation time.
VICE Film School: How were you alerted to the protest?
Florence Barkway: Just by chance on Twitter. Once I heard it was taking place, I immediately started to plan a short film around it. I’d done some research previously on SESTA-FOSTA in the US and actually shot some footage of an International Whores Day protest against it while on holiday in LA, which ended being used at the start of the London film.
Can you briefly explain why the bill could be dangerous to sex workers in the UK?
Since the bill was passed, sex workers in the US have reported an increase in violence, pimping and death in their community. The laws make websites criminally liable for anything posted that is related to sex work – so websites like Backpage were shut down, which was where many consensual sex workers generated 70 percent-plus of their income. With that relatively safe route to work cut off, people have been forced back onto the streets to find money.
Before the shoot, I’d been talking to some UK-based sex workers who also heavily relied on Backpage and didn’t know what their futures held because of this change. They had also lost their ‘blacklists’ – lists that the community had put together of clients that were violent or disrespectful. Without these lists, their lives are suddenly at a much greater risk.
In a practical sense, what additional information did you have to rapidly become au fait with in the short amount of time you had pre-shoot?
Before I found out about the protest, I didn’t know that the Labour MP Sarah Champion was seeking to get Trump’s law installed over here. I had to listen to podcasts to get familiar with Champion’s argument and even heard her joking about how she couldn’t believe she was agreeing with something Trump had done on the BBC Radio 4 show Woman's Hour.
How did you choose a host and go about locking them in for the shoot last-minute? Did they have to have prior knowledge of sex-work laws?
I had previously worked with a sex worker called Mistress Bliss on another short film for VICE. I’d seen on Twitter that she was extremely passionate about everything that was happening with SESTA-FOSTA. She earned 70 percent of her income through Backpage and was seriously affected when it was shut down. So I thought she’d be the perfect voice for this documentary – the voice of the sex workers that wasn’t being heard by the people in charge of making these laws.
What kind of administrative and legal steps do you have to take to be able to film a protest? Are there any extra considerations to take into account when the protest happens to be outside Parliament?
As per protocol, we are required to gain release forms and display crowd notices when filming in a public place. Filming at protests is slightly less problematic as the protesters are often there to gain publicity and media attention anyway, though we would need to make certain considerations if there was some sort of altercation or arrest that took place, and we may also be required to blur anyone involved in the final film.
Are there any key bits of advice or guidance you’d give to someone who was planning to go out and film a protest?
Make sure you’re aware of the people who are protesting. What are their histories, do they tend to have peaceful protests or do things get out of hand? Find out how many people are going to be turning up. Are there any people attending that will be especially good to talk to? Also: don’t be scared of reaching out to the organisers beforehand so they’re aware you’re going to be filming – it could be a great way of lining up good contributors.
Make sure that your mics are quickly accessible and that you pack lightly with equipment, too – a zoom lens with a stabiliser is great so you don’t have to stop and change lens every second.