Filmmaker Marcel Petit's upcoming documentary tells the "women's" story we never hear. Never once calling them "girls," such as "call girls" or more derisively, whores. Yes. Those are the women we're talking about.
What happens to prostitutes after? After they grow up, grow old, move on? It's a question that's hardly asked, let alone answered in a documentary. Until now.
Petit's feature Hookers shares the struggle of Native women who once worked the streets of Saskatoon and how they've "crawled back out and begun their healing process."
The story is not exploitative; quite the opposite—in many ways, this is his story too. A Cree/French native of Saskatoon, his mother and his sister both were prostitutes. But Hookers is not a downcast real-life drama; his mother and sib and the others interviewed have risen from the ashes like a phoenix to live full and yes, respectable lives.
"I wanted to put a face on the pejorative and show how these women are human beings, that they are here and are alive and have gone on," he says. "In many respects, my film is honoring my mother, because she's just one of the strongest women I've ever seen when you consider where she's been and what she's doing now, going back to college in her 50's to get her certificate as a drug and alcohol counselor. It took her 40 years to get that education. I tell her every day, it's you I want to honor."
Petit came to moviemaking in his 30s after a career of hotel management and as the program coordinator for the Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company. He made the shift complete by attending film school in Vancouver and learning the crafts of writing, directing and acting.
"It was about two or three years ago. My brain was open, I felt alive and felt the joy that I had something awakening," he says. "It's been a beautiful trip since then. I have stories to tell. Taking classes and going to film school has helped me learn how."
From there he has made two short films, worked as a cameraman, editor, and acted in six films including the recently released Pathfinder where he was the stand-in for Russell Means. Hookers is his first feature-length film, and an ambitious one at that. We get a rare glimpse as we hear how girls as young as 12 ended up providing sexual favors for grown men; a startling and amazing revelation they survived, let alone prevail. More than anything else, he emphasizes his documentary is about healing, even decades after these women stopped turning tricks. A tough road where polite folks years later look at them with disgust.
"These women knew me, so that trust was there. We talk about their mothers and father and where were they? Why did they leave you down there and why didn't anybody come and get you?…Nobody ever did come to get my mom. She was just there. She was just forgotten. That amazed me that people could forget about their child like that."
But he hasn't. The former prostitutes have gone on to start families and have fought, with varying degrees of success, to come out of the shadows and into the light. He realizes how easy it would be to hone in on the titillating—he doesn't. He also realizes how easy it would be to invade their privacy—he doesn't do that either. "If they started to cry while I was filming, I shut off the camera. I didn't want to be that mean to them. I'm not going to disrespect these women in any way."
Which is why Hookers—which is exactly how the women refer to their former profession—is unique on so many fronts. A documentary made by the son of a prostitute that not only doesn't scorn their past but respects their perseverance. A documentary in honor of his mother who rose from the ashes to become a counselor and leader in her community.
To be completed this fall, Hookers is above all else Petit's gift of hope. "These women don't want to be victims, they want to show the world that they are here."
Thanks to Marcel Petit, they'll soon get their chance.