In many ways, Trade of Innocents, the festival-award-winning 2012 thriller starring Dermot Mulroney and Mira Sorvino, all started with a giggle.
The story of how film producer Laurie Bolthouse came to be in Cambodia eight years ago, hosting a dinner with a group of Vietnamese teens who had been sex trafficked, is sort of involved. And the story of how this mother of three young girls and her husband, a family doctor, ended up producing a film, is another long tale.
But the event that changed the trajectory of Bolthouse's life happened in an instant — when the girl at her side at that meal began to laugh with Bolthouse's daughters.
"She had that little-girl giggle," says the Littleton resident. "And I was like, 'Oh my goodness.' I got the biggest lump in my stomach. ... This is putting a whole new face on it. I did not see this coming at all.
"I'm picturing my sister, who is Korean. And I'm like, 'Oh, this is killing me.'"
Bolthouse, who'd grown up with multiple adopted siblings from different countries, explains that until then, she had really only understood human trafficking in an intellectual way — as a philanthropist, as a world traveler, as a mother. The dinner-table experience came on with what she calls the "weight of silence."
And after the dinner, she says she and her daughters (at the time, a 9-year-old and 11-year-old twins) wept from the heaviness. They all knew these girls were not as old as they'd claimed.
"One of my daughters tends to be on the existential side," Bolthouse says. "She just looked at me and she said, 'Mom ... you say that we believe in God, and I would like to know where he is.' ... I just didn't have any answers for them.
"... And I thought, gosh, I would really, really like closure, but I don't know how it's going to come. Because I know that I've been forever changed, but I don't know what this means at all for the future."
It turned out that a distant friend, Christopher Bessette, had just come through a similar situation while working on a television exposé for which he went undercover in the brothels of Cambodia. He, too, wanted to do more, and began writing a film screenplay. During the process of seeking investors, something in his gut told him to contact the Bolthouses.
When she read Bessette's email, Bolthouse says, she just knew she and her husband had to be involved.
"I really meant it," she says, laughing, "but I also didn't, because I don't know anything about movies, other than that my season of life for a long time has been in the Disney realm, at home in my pajamas."
They did tell him yes, and she says "that began a three-year process of making Trade of Innocents. ... We found a production company out in L.A., who was experienced in making a movie and getting your actors and actresses and everything. And then it wasn't too long after that, about a little over a year, that we moved to Thailand for three months with the girls.
"I say it disrupted my life for the better ... and now we're here, a couple of years after post-production, and this little film still has legs on it."
As does Bolthouse's involvement in the cause. She admits that it took learning about trafficking overseas to start paying attention to what's happening at home. Today she sits on two boards, one for a New York City nonprofit that works with foreign-national women who have been trafficked, and the other for Colorado Springs' Restore Innocence, which this year will open the first residential facility for minor, female victims of trafficking in Colorado.
"The average person just wants to know, 'What can I do?'" she says. "Go to these people in your community. Just keep strengthening what you already have."