Editor’s note: Grant Knisely will screen and discuss “Untouchable: Children of God” Sept. 17 in Davis Auditorium on campus. Visit the Alumni Relations website for more information and to register.
Grant Knisely fell in love with Nepal in 2001, when he traveled there as part of a service learning project at the University of Denver. It was during that trip that Knisely made his first documentary film, “Project Nepal: A Time to Learn,” which was about the DU students on the journey and their experiences volunteering with nongovernmental organizations in Kathmandu.
Encouraged by the student film awards he won for “Nepal,” Knisely (BA ’02) made two more short documentaries in the years following graduation. But it wasn’t until he heard horrific tales of sexual slavery in Asia that he turned to filmmaking full time. He formed his own production company, Code Red Films, and returned to Nepal in 2013 to begin work on his first feature-length documentary, “Untouchable: Children of God,” which tells the story of two Nepalese girls sold into sex slavery in India.
“It’s just beyond comprehension, how young these girls are and what happens to them in the brothels in India,” Knisely says. “It really moved me personally—I think it’s a life-or-death issue that was worth the risk to try to tell the story of these girls and shine a light on this issue.”
The primary risk, he explains involved shooting undercover footage at brothels in New Delhi and Mumbai. “It’s definitely not a game. If anybody feels that you’re jeopardizing their revenue stream or threatening their operation — you’re talking about organized crime, mafia, there’s rampant corruption in India all the way to the head of police and politicians,” he says. “We met a girl in Mumbai who was 16, forced into prostitution; 100 percent of her clients were politicians and police officers. We did have to be very cautious.”
“Untouchable” premiered in April at the Newport Beach Film Festival, where it won the Humanitarian Award. It was accepted at September’s Breckenridge Film Festival, and Knisely also has submitted it to the Starz Denver Film Festival, as well as festivals in Texas, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Toronto.
Knisely has been invited to screen part of the film in late July in Washington, D.C., for members of Congress and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He also is looking into distribution on DVD, television and elsewhere.
Knisely credits University of Denver film professors Sheila Schroeder and Tony Gault with spurring his interest in film—documentaries in particular. “I really liked the fact that DU was a smaller private school, and I felt that I could have more freedom to try something new, which was that documentary I did my senior year,” he says. “There was a lot of great vision and investment when I met with the professors back then.
“I feel like the medium of film can be such a powerful tool to reflect the reality happening in the world,” he says. “There is so much time and money and resources spent on features out of Hollywood, and so many of them, in my opinion, are quite poor. We shouldn’t be doing that until we’re at least using the medium to reflect a little more of the reality going on out there. There’s enough tragedy and comedy and drama in the real world.”