Sweetheart Deal follows women trapped in street prostitution by crippling heroin addictions. A weathered old man named Elliott offers hope, care and refuge within his battered RV home in exchange for their company.

“I don’t really get high anymore,” says Sara. “I get normal.”


About the Film

Seattle’s Aurora Avenue is a mean stretch of an old highway, the ugly underbelly of a gleaming, prosperous city, lined with cheap motels and lost souls. This is where the protagonists of Sweetheart Deal gamble with their lives, driven by their addiction to heroin. Working as prostitutes, four women risk everything from deadly overdose to rape to HIV infection to murder. This astonishingly intimate look inside their world, carved out over several years of unprecedented access, creates a harrowing portrait of what life is like when there is no safety net.

For years, on the gritty north end of Aurora, there was always a well-kept RV parked at the side of the road somewhere. On a platform on the back, a generator. Inside, lights, warmth, food, rest – this was the home of Laughn Elliott Doescher, the so-called ‘Mayor of Aurora.’ It was well known on the street as a place where prostitutes could go to get help kicking heroin, since the social services in Seattle – a bustling, rich, flagship city of the New Tech Economy – were woefully inadequate. Elliott, also called Gray Cloud, was a complex, seemingly kindly man in his 60s, an aging hippy with a ragged gray ponytail who had been, as he told it, a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War.

Into Elliott’s RV come four very different women from very different backgrounds. Each is in active heroin addiction; each works the street, at some point, for drug money. Each has her own unique story.

The Team

Meet the team behind Sweetheart Deal Movie

Elisa Levine
Elisa Levine
Co-Director / Producer

SWEETHEART DEAL represents the culmination of Elisa Levine’s 20-year fascination with story-driven documentaries about marginalized subcultures. She was Assistant Editor and Lead Researcher for Robinson Devor’s dark and controversial documentary ZOO, about zoophiles in rural Washington. ZOO premiered at Sundance, played Cannes, and was distributed by THINKFilm. Elisa’s earlier work, WAITING FOR NESARA, documents the true story of The Open Mind Forum, a messianic group of Salt Lake City ex-Mormons, and the radical faith that binds them together in the wake of 9/11.

Elisa initiated SWEETHEART DEAL with an extensive investigation of Seattle’s red light district, and eventually gained access behind the scenes. Elisa is a Points North, Garrett Scott, Sundance Documentary Fund and Sundance Edit & Story Lab fellow.

Gabriel Miller
Gabriel Miller
Co-Director / Director of Photography

Gabriel Miller is a cinematographer, director and producer with twenty years of experience in documentary. Miller’s credits include the Oscar-nominated KINGS POINT (cinematography), which aired on HBO, WONDER WOMEN! (DP), which aired on PBS, and VERVE, a regional arts program, for which he won an Emmy as a Director and DP. Miller produces advocacy pieces for clients including the George Lucas Educational Foundation. He has worked with such Oscar-winning and Oscar-nominated directors as Barbara Kopple, Cynthia Wade, Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady and Sari Gilman, as well as with Emmy winners Rory Kennedy and Liz Garbus, and Peabody winner Judith Helfand. Gabriel is a Points North, Garrett Scott, Sundance Documentary Fund and Sundance Edit & Story Lab fellow. He is currently Director of Photography on an upcoming HBO documentary by Liz Garbus.

Peggy Case
Peggy Case

Peggy Case is an award-winning producer and director of documentaries and dramas. She produced David Russo’s dark, stylish comedy THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF LITTLE DIZZLE and Robinson Devor’s ZOO. Provocative and controversial, ZOO was an official selection for the Sundance Film Festival Documentary Competition and the Cannes Film Festival’s Directors Fortnight. ZOO was voted one of “25 Best American Independent Films of the Decade” by Filmmaker Magazine. Case also produced WE GO WAY BACK, director Lynn Shelton’s feature debut and winner of the Grand Jury Award at the Slamdance Film Festival. Recent feature credits include the 2013 Tribeca release THE TRUTH ABOUT EMANUEL (co-executive producer) and WILD OATS (executive producer), scheduled for a 2016 release by the Weinstein Company. Case is also currently producing MONUMENTA, a portrait of the extraordinary American sculptor Beverly Pepper.

Tracy Rector
Tracy Rector
Co-Producer/Impact Producer

Tracy Rector is a filmmaker, curator, community organizer, Co-founder of Longhouse Media and à Stranger Genius Award winner. Rector has made 360 short films, and is currently in production of her third feature documentary. As co-producer of the award-winning film TEACHINGS OF THE TREE PEOPLE, producer of MARCH POINT, co-director of CLEARWATER and the director of EAGLE BONE; Rector has developed an awareness and sensitivity to the power of media and film as a modern storytelling tool. Her work has been featured on Independent Lens, Cannes Film Festival, ImagineNative, National Geographic, Toronto International Film Festival, the Seattle Art Museum and in the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian.
In 2009, Tracy received the National Association for Media Literacy award for outstanding contributions made in
the field of media education (previously awarded to Jon Stewart and Bill Moyers). She is a WGBH Producer Fellow,
Sundance Institute Lab Fellow, Tribeca All Access Grantee and is the recipient of the Horace Mann Award for her
work in utilizing media for social justice. She currently lives in Seattle and sits as a City of Seattle Arts Commissioner.

Peggy Rajski
Peggy Rajski
Executive Producer

Peggy Rajski has been producing award-winning movies for over 20 years. Her films have garnered over 40 major nominations including wins at the Independent Spirit Awards and the Academy Awards. Rajski received an Oscar for directing and co-producing TREVOR, 1994 Academy Award winner for Best Live Action Short. She later founded The Trevor Project, a nonprofit with a 15-year record of life-saving success. Rajski produced THE GRIFTERS, LITTLE MAN TATE, TOWELHEAD, HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS and the John Sayles films MATEWAN and EIGHT MEN OUT.
Rajski is a DGA and AMPAS member, a judge for the Academy’s Nicholls Fellowships and has served on the Academy’s Best Foreign Film Shortlist Committee. She received NYWIFT’s Muse Award for outstanding vision and achievement in entertainment. Rajski is an Associate Arts Professor and Head of Producing for the Graduate Film Program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Brent Stiefel
Brent Stiefel
Executive Producer

Brent Stiefel is the founder and CEO of VOTIV, a music, film and entertainment firm that specializes in independent, boundary pushing arts and ventures. In addition to his extensive work in music, Brent has helped produce a number of high profile independent feature films that have garnered the attention of film festivals and awards ceremonies alike. Brent is best known for his work on OBVIOUS CHILD, THE GIANT MECHANICAL MAN and CIRCLE. His most recent productions have won major awards at Venice International Film Festival (FREE IN DEED) and Sundance (AS YOU ARE).


For press inquiries or publicity stills please contact:

Sweetheart Deal awarded $50,000 grant from True Productions and SIFF

“True Productions founder Dwayne Clark, and his wife Terese Clark, have generously pledged to underwrite an annual $50,0000 grant for three years…’When it comes to the topic of heroin addiction, we see Seattle and nearby communities struggling with solutions. We hope by supporting SWEETHEART DEAL, that we can keep the problem top of mind and perhaps spark more conversations around prevention,’ said Dwayne Clark.”

–SIFF Press Release (March 31, 2017)

Sweetheart Deal receives 2016 Sundance Institute Documentary Film Grant

“The storytellers we support with our documentary fund concern themselves with compelling narratives about the contemporary world,” said Tabitha Jackson, Director of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program, “and also with artful and evocative ways of depicting the human experience.”

–Sundance Institute (October 31, 2016)

Sweetheart Deal selected for IFP Spotlight on Documentaries at IFP Film Week 2016

Presenting 50 documentary features ranging from an early financing stage to those nearing completion, this section includes emerging and established filmmakers in non-fiction.

– Filmmaker Magazine (July 27, 2016)

Sweetheart Deal invited to Sundance Institute Edit & Story Lab

Documentary filmmakers in post-production embark on a rigorous exploration of story, structure, and character development.

–Sundance Institute (June 2016)

Sweetheart Deal awarded 2015 Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant at Full Frame

The grant is awarded to films “bringing a unique vision to the content and style of contemporary documentary making.”

–Realscreen (March 20, 2015)

Sweetheart Deal invited to 2014 Points North Pitch at Camden International Film Festival

“The Points North Fellowship, part of the Camden International Film Festival, a unique opportunity for six documentary filmmakers (or filmmaking teams) to develop their feature-length works-in-progress through a combination of focused industry mentorship, workshops, meetings and a live, public pitch session – the Points North Pitch. Panelists at the pitch include representatives from the Sundance Institute, Tribeca Film Institute, ITVS, POV, Al Jazeera, The Orchard, Fledgling Fund, San Francisco Film Society, Ford Foundation.”

–Points North Institute (September 2014)

Desolation Row

“Sweetheart Deal reveals an intense, unseen world”

–CityArts Magazine (April 28, 2014)

Thank You

We are SO grateful to the following generous individuals and organizations who have contributed, either financially or through in-kind services to make this film a reality.


Melisse Barrett • Alan Pruzan • Bob Fink • Elizabeth Rudolf • Brent Stiefel/Votiv Films • Pete Vogt • Philip and Christina Wohlstetter • Caron Carlyon • Betty Tong • Michael Steele • Susan Silver • Joe Shapiro • Jim Brown • Jim Brown • Anne McGowan

Patricia Boiko • Heather Carawan • Richard Carmen • Caroline Colon • Aaron Dean • Annie Fergerson • Robin Franzi • Gil Magen • Phyllis Huster • Bow Jones • Stefanie Malone • Doug Plummer • Jude Rosenberg


Dave Howe, Bad Animals • Lainy Bagwell • Joe Bassi • Cleaves Benjamin • Madeline Berman • Angela Bernardoni • Anne Blackburn • Gisella Bustillos • Tracey Byrne • Jonathan Caso • Sarah Crowe • Zach Ellenbogen • Travis Erdmann • Mike Arcangel Flores • Jesse O. Franklin IV, K&L Gates • Michael Gross • Dina Guttman • Miranda Rose Hall • Shauna Hargrove • Nikki Jones • Cory Kelley • Loretta Kennedy • Paul Kim • Kevin Kogin • Leyna Krow • Lacey Leavitt • Wailam Kwan • Jens Larsen • Lemolo • Meredith Lippman • Max McSimov • Paul Matthew Moore • Josh Myers • John Ned • Oppenheimer Camera Rentals • Joe Owens • Alex Perrault • Josh Perrault • Wes Plate • Doug Plummer • Sarah Ricci • Mark Ring • Ruben Rodriguez • Lance Rosen • Line Sandsmark • Eva Schach • Judge Carol Schapira • CB Shamah • James Allen Smith • Naomi Thalenberg • Nick Thompson • Ria Tsinas • Chaya Turner • Wendy Wills, Bad Animals • Mark Wittow, K&L Gates • Ryan Worsley


Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant • Northwest Film Forum – Documentary Film Fund • Pacific Pioneer Fund • Points North Fellowship at Camden International Film Festival • Seattle Women in Film • Sundance Documentary Fund • Wright Education Fund


Caleb Banta-Green, Research Scientist, UW Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute
Dr. Patricia Boiko


Adobe • Bad Animals • K&L Gates • Northwest Film Forum • Rosen Lewis, PLLC • Votiv Films • Wright Education Fund


Northwest Film Forum