Lost Girls
Credit: Jessica Kourkounis/Netflix

Not every film can change the world, but it’s safe to assume that Lost Girls, Netflix’s crime drama gearing up for its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, can at least change a few minds.

Directed by Liz Garbus (What Happened, Miss Simone?), the film tells the true story of Mari Gilbert (Amy Ryan), a single mother whose daughter goes missing. Frustrated by the lack of progress in the case, Mari takes matters into her own hands, only to uncover a much bigger crisis of young sex workers who’ve disappeared, with cops not doing much about it.

Garbus, Ryan, and costars Miriam Shor, Oona Laurence, and Lola Kirke gathered to discuss the film’s issues and hopeful impact on Monday afternoon in Park City, Utah, as part of the EW x NRDC Sundance Film Festival Panel Series. As they said out of the gate, one thing about Lost Girls is quite clear: There remains a severe lack of justice for too many women (including Mari, who died in 2016 but helped Garbus work on the film) and victims of this tragedy. Indeed the case is still developing — in large part because Mari’s efforts forced the media and authorities to pay attention to it.

Sundance Portrait Studio
Credit: Emily Assiran/Getty Images for Pizza Hut

“It’s being aware and using your voice,” Ryan said as part of the discussion, about what she learned from playing Mari and the story of Lost Girls. “And that there’s safety in numbers, and there’s power in numbers. Find your drive.”

Lost Girls is based on the 2013 book by Robert Kolker which brought the stories of Mari and other mothers and daughters to light — and, in its multifaceted portrait of sex-workers, destigmatized a particular group of women. “The depth of injustice is always completely shocking and jaw-dropping,” says Kirke, who plays a woman affected by the crimes in more ways than one. “That’s something that was really clear to me in the book…. I hope that this film will move people to stand up for people who may fall outside of the puritanical ideas of morality that this country likes to shove down people’s throats.”

The movie is dark, unsettling, and, by the nature of its story, unresolved. But there remains a glimmer of hope in what Mari was able to achieve, even if she never got the answers she deserved. “This person who was continually told she was powerless, who actually was powerless, at the bottom rung of that ladder made a huge difference,” Shor reminds. “Those women’s bodies were found because Mari Gilbert wouldn’t stop. When one person can do something that’s a catalyst for things, it’s always hard to believe. But they really can.”

Lost Girls premieres Tuesday night at the Sundance Film Festival.

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