Is Paradise Highway Based on a True Story?

Image Credit: Nick Burchell/Lionsgate

‘Paradise Highway’ is a crime drama that follows the story of a woman who is tasked with delivering a package. When she discovers that the package is actually a little girl who is a victim of trafficking, she starts reconsidering her actions. This poses trouble for her, as well as her brother, as now both the cops as well as the traffickers are after them.

Written and directed by Anna Gutto, the film turns the spotlight toward some very dark but important issues. It doesn’t shrink away from showing just how repulsive the situation can be for the kids who are trafficked, while also shining a light on the people who tirelessly work to help them. With such serious themes, it makes one wonder how close the film gets to reality. Is it based on true events? Let’s find out.

Is Paradise Highway a True Story?

Image Credit: Courtesy of Lionsgate

No, ‘Paradise Highway’ is not based on a true story, but it is inspired by true events. It is an original story written by Anna Gutto. She started developing the idea almost a decade before it was made into a film, which came to her from something that she’d experienced as a teenager. “It turned out that there had been a brothel in my friend’s building. And this was a good side of town, and it really shocked me,” she said. The fact that this was something happening right next door made her think about all the things that go unnoticed or how people choose to ignore them sometimes.

As time passed, the thought persisted in her mind, and Gutto also became aware of many more things related to the subject, especially the fact the people in such places were not just foreigners who had been trafficked, but it was also happening on the domestic level. She decided to bring this subject to the fore, and get the conversation going about trafficking and its impact on people. So, she started to come up with a story of one girl who manages to find her way out of the place. “Often it’s very difficult for these young girls or boys to get out. Not because they’re chained, but because of their own lack of resources in themselves, or just the fear that they have. So, I wanted to sort of tell a story about someone who had the capacity to break out,” Gutto said.

By the time the idea had developed a little bit, she received a bit of advice from Paul Schrader that turned the story in a different direction. Gutto had already been considering using truck stops as the location for the story when Schrader showed her a YouTube video about female truckers to see if there was a character there for her film. She researched further about it and got in touch with the female truckers, hearing their personal experiences and their life on the road. She also used some dialogues from these conversations in the film.

Image Credit: Nick Burchell/Lionsgate

She was heavily inspired by their stories and gained a lot of respect for them, especially considering that they were working in a really male-dominated industry, working in challenging environments, while also processing their own personal traumas and troubles. “I thought, just this strength, I mean, it’s so beautiful. And there’s something so wonderful about people who survive tough circumstances. It just so shows the strength in people, you know? So, I was so inspired by them,” she said. This eventually led her to write the story from Sally’s perspective.

While ‘Paradise Highway’ became the story of two people who have been through some very bad stuff in their childhood, Gutto didn’t want it to become a story about victims. “I find victims are disempowering. And I don’t believe that human beings are disempowered. I believe that human beings are empowered. I wanted these two characters to reflect each other, but also to provoke development in each other. And to allow us to and to help us to never pity them; I wanted the characters to never pity each other because I never want us to pity them,” she added.

Considering all this, it is fair to say that while ‘Paradise Highway’ is a fictional tale, it is not concocted out of thin air. With all the research, the real-life characterization, and the relevant issues at the heart of it, the film is very much grounded in reality and certainly succeeds in invoking deep emotions in the viewer.

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