In an experimental intervention court in Queens, New York, the goal is not to punish the accused, but rather help save them. The women that are brought in front of Judge Toko Serita have all found their way into prostitution. Some by lack of options and others by deception and force.

Whether they realize it or not they have become part of the vicious cycle of human trafficking. They run the gambit from undocumented Asian migrants, who found themselves working in massage parlors after being promised a better life in America, to minors and minorities lured in by manipulating and violent pimps.

Through Stephanie Wang-Breal’s immersive and non-judgmental lens, Blowin’ Up reveals itself to be a captivating meditation on how the criminal justice system can be used as a tool for uplifting change, and not merely punishment. The accused women brought in front of the court are all given the same choices: plead guilty, fight the charge, or take a series of counselling sessions and get the charges wiped clean upon completion.

It is the latter option that the film is most fascinated with. Through lawyers like Eliza Hooks and countless social workers, Blowin’ Up effectively shows the difference that can be made with the proper support network in place. The trust established, and bonds of friendships made, go a long way in ensuring that the sex workers do not fall back into old patterns.

Wang-Breal crafts a compelling plea for more humane approaches to justice. It is urgently needed in an era where politicians tout “law and order” as an all-purpose solution to crime, without actually dealing with how to eradicate the root causes and reform those caught up within it.

Tuesday, May 1, 6:45 PM, Hart House Theatre
Thursday, May 3, 12:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Saturday, May 5, 9 PM, Revue Cinema