Born into Brothels (2004) Review
(More customer reviews)In order to photograph in the red light districts of Calcutta, India, photojournalist Zana Briski lived there for several years. Though many of the residents were wary of her camera, Briski found that the neighborhood children were unafraid and curious. So she began teaching them photography, giving each child a point-and-shoot film camera with which to photograph his or her environment and providing classes on technique and editing. This eventually resulted in international acclaim for the children's photographs and media coverage for Briski's unusual photo classes. "Born Into Brothels" is a documentary of Briski's class of young photographers filmed by Zana Briski and Ross Kaufman about 2 years into the project that has become known as "Kids with Cameras".
The best thing about "Born Into Brothels" is that it allows the children to tell their story in their own words. Zana Briski's class of 8 photographers -who call her "Zana Auntie"- are children of prostitutes, born and raised among the harsh realities of Calcutta's Sonagachi red light district. There are 5 girls: Kochi, Tapasi, Shanti, Puja, and Suchitra, and 3 boys: Manik, Gour, and Avijit, ranging in age from 10 to 14 years, but mostly pre-teens. The documentary is dominated by interviews with the children and by their photographs, with occasional voiceover or footage of Zana Briski. The filmmakers are commendably respectful of the children and their decisions. These kids understand their situations very well and tend to be philosophical about it, yet many of them yearn for opportunities to escape life in the brothel. Interestingly, the kids are not fatherless children of single prostitutes, as I might have expected. Many of their mothers' are married and live with large extended families.
"Born Into Brothels" lets the kids talk about themselves, their families, and their world. We sit in on their photo classes, accompany them on photo field trips to the zoo and the beach, and sympathize with Zana Briski's frustration as she struggles with bureaucracy and prejudice to find boarding schools that will accept children of sex workers. We also see the kids beaming with pride and having some fun as they enjoy international success and a bit of fame in India as well. Zana Briski has obviously done a great deal of work and invested a lot of emotional energy in a project that may change the lives of a handful of children if she is lucky. But even if the kids lives' turn out no different than their parents', photography has broadened their outlook and given them some great experiences. "Born Into Brothels" is an engaging documentary of that process. To learn more or purchase prints, visit www.kids-with-cameras.org .
The DVD (Thinkfilm 2005): There are text bios of Zana Briski and Ross Kaufman. "About the Photographers" includes text bios of the children, which are useful in figuring out who is who.
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A tribute to the resiliency of childhood and the restorative power of art, BORN INTO BROTHELS is a portrait of several unforgettable children who live in Calcutta's red light district, where there mothers work as prostitutes. Spurred by the kids' facination with her camera, Zana Briski, a New-York-based photographer living in the brothels and documenting life there, decides to teach them photography. As they begin to look at and record their world through new eyes, the kids, who society refused to recognize, awaken for the first time to their own talents and sense of worth. Filmmakers Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski capture the way in which beauty can be found even the seemingly bleakest and most helpless of places, and how art and education can empower children to transform their lives.
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