Look down from the sky over Iowa, and the fields and roads appear to create a perfect grid of a tidy state, an "Iowa Nice" state. It’s part of the inspiration behind the upcoming feature-length documentary "Gridshock," exploring Iowa’s role in the sex trafficking industry. 

Director Vanessa McNeal and cinematographer Taylor Bluemel laid out the future of their documentary in February, with an all-or-nothing campaign on IndieGoGo for $35,000. They raised $36,915 within 60 days.

Next spring, the Des Moines Civic Center will host a premiere on April 2, 2019. 

"It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I think that there’s so much interest in sex trafficking in this community, wanting to discuss it and create awareness around it," McNeal said. "We got a lot of people to care about us making the film and making our goal."

Along with testimony by victims and law enforcement, the documentary will take viewers to a side of the industry that many haven’t seen before: inside the industry’s buyers, who fuel demand in sex trafficking around Iowa.

McNeal and Bluemel filmed the entire production for a month straight in state, and finished the final editing in Portland, Ore., where Bluemel lives, at the start of September. The two are planning to submit the complete documentary to the Sundance and SXSW film festivals.

"We’re thinking that the release and the Des Moines premiere will be March of 2019," McNeal said.

McNeal, now living in Des Moines, was first introduced to the world of sex trafficking as she pursued a master’s degree in social work at the University of Northern Iowa. She and Bluemel met at UNI.

What sets "Gridshock" apart, McNeal said, is that the filmmakers look at sex trafficking for what it is: a multimillion-dollar industry, with mostly male buyers facilitating the demand for people -- mostly, but not all, female. Many are children, McNeal said.  

"Who are the buyers? Why are they engaged in this behavior? And why aren’t they criminalized? Because when you look at the structure of the legal system right now, the survivors are the victims; they’re criminalized, and the buyers really get a slap on the wrist when they’re purchasing a human," McNeal said.

The project was emotionally taxing on McNeal and Bluemel, who leaned on each other to talk out what they had heard together.

"I think that once you hear the truth, you can’t unknow it, and I’ll never be able to forget the stories I heard, and the information we were able to uncover through this process," she said.

McNeal has previously released three documentaries, starting in her senior year of college, when she focused on her own story of abuse. Her last documentary, released in 2017 and titled "The Voiceless," told the stories of five male survivors of sexual violence and the conversation in society.

"I’m a survivor of sexual violence, so I identify with those stories. And I’m really passionate about having those conversations," she said.

"I don’t know if my next project will be about sexual violence. I want to continue on essential issues," she added. "I like talking about hard things."