As the head of a globally-regarded NGO that claimed to provide shelter and education for girls rescued from brothels in Northern Thailand, Mickey Choothesa’s story took an unexpected turn during a documentary filming.
Amidst growing international concern about human trafficking, a nonprofit organisation named COSA was founded in 2005 by Mickey Choothesa, with the stated mission of serving as a refuge for at-risk and trafficked girls in Northern Thailand. His work drew international donors, a steady stream of western visitors, and global press attention.
Filmmakers Josie Swantek Heitz and Dave Adams were fascinated by the story of two young girls who had been sold into the sex trade by their parents and were later rescued by COSA. They believed they had found a harrowing and uplifting story of heroism worthy of a feature-length documentary.
Unexpectedly, their conversations with both the girls and their families contradicted Mickey’s version of their stories, making the truth that much more elusive. Reluctantly, they became subjects in the film, revealing the story as it unfolded for them.
“When we got back from our first shoot and started working with a translator in our edit, we noticed significant discrepancies in the material we were actually getting in our interviews and the translations Mickey was giving us in the field,” said Josie Swantek Heitz, director and producer of the The Wrong Light.
The crew discovered that Mickey actually sells COSA to the girls and their families as a unique educational opportunity, not as a sanctuary for trafficked girls. Coming from marginalised communities in the Golden Triangle region, neither they nor their parents had any idea how Mickey represented them to the outside world.
Dave Adams, director of the film, explained: “As the stories came into question, we were forced to confront the girls head on with untruths that Mickey had been perpetuating about their lives. It was devastating to see the emotions of the girls, but Eye, Fon, all the girls were so strong during the process. I hope their strength comes through as an inspiration to viewers of the film.”
After the documentary aired, COSA was closed down. Another NGO, Hands Across the Water, helped the girls continue their education. Some girls went on to university; others moved back home to their families.
Even though there was a shocking twist in the story, the filmmakers are happy with the impact of the film. “We always planned to tell a story about a group of brave girls with strong voices. We accomplished that goal.” says Dave.