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Born Into Brothels (2003)

Director: Zana Briski, Zana Briski, Ross Kauffman, more...
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Rating:
Studio: Lions Gate
Genre: Documentary, Political & Social Issues, Art
Running Time: 85 min.
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Synopsis
Born Into Brothels is a documentary about the inspiring non-profit foundation Kids With Cameras, which teaches photography skills to children in marginalized communities. In 1998, New York-based photographer Zana Briski started photographing prostitutes in the red-light district of Calcutta. She eventually developed a relationship with their children, who were fascinated by her equipment. After several years of learning in workshops with Briski, the kids created their own photographs with point-and-shoot 35 mm cameras. Their images capture the intimacy and color of everyday life in the overpopulated sections of Calcutta. Proceeds from the sale of the children's photographs go to fund their future education. Directed by Briski and filmmaker Ross Kauffman, Born Into Brothels was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004 as part of the documentary competition. ~ Andrea LeVasseur, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

The Uses of Photography by talltale July 24, 2005 - 7:28 AM PDT
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10 out of 11 members found this review helpful
2004's Academy Award winner for best documentary, BORN INTO BROTHELS is definitely worth a watch. As upsetting as it is to see these children of India's red-light district growing up with so little chance in the world, the movie is equally heartening and disheartening because of the filmmakers' link to the kids and their very real and productive attempts to help half a dozen of them. The children's connecting to, growing love of and skill for photography form the heart of the movie, and the results are pretty amazing. You may wonder, as I did, how the filmmakers were able to induce the prostitutes to allow filming of themselves and their families, since this "trade" carries even more stigma in India--where the ability to rise above one's class is still shockingly difficult--than it does in most western societies. That is my only caveat. Otherwise, "Born into Brothels" should be on the must-see list of anybody who follows documentary filmmaking. Or photography.

To address member "obonin" and Partha Banerjee's objections to the documentary: Banerjee claims that almost all the children are in worse conditions now that they were prior to the documentary. Are they dead, perhaps? Their conditions were pretty horrifying at the beginning of this film. The filmmakers admit in their end credits that several of the children have returned to their previous life--leaving school, or not being allowed by their parents/caretakers even to attend. What about the children who are now in better straits? They don't count? Yes, the filmmakers may be basking in some glory at winning their nominations and award. But does this discount their work and their film? I think not. The film is indeed an embarrassment to India, and I can understand those who rise up in objection. But so, for America, are many documentaries made in America about America. Does that mean we shouldn't see and learn from them?

Unless almost everything in BORN INTO BROTHELS is a lie--the successful introduction to and training in photography that the kids receive, the attempts and success at getting one of them a passport (and a trip to Amsterdam!) and several others entrance into a school--these objections seem very unfair. And why, then, did Banerjee continue to serve as interpreter if he did not believe in what was being attempted? I would not be surprised to learn that the Indian government had coerced Banerjee into complaining as some sort of punishment for aiding this whole project, but perhaps I am giving in too easily to "conspiracy theories." Maybe we need a "Born into Brothels: II" as a follow-up, but is Banerjee actually saying that those two or three children who WERE helped should not have been? Boo, I say, to the stupidity expressed here.

If the India government had any sense of intelligent PR, not to mention social justice (I could say that about America, too, right? Not about Public Relations, god knows, but the social justice part), it would have made certain that these kids continued on track toward a better life--and then touted its success to kingdom come. But when a country pretends that conditions such as prostitution don't exist and finds an entire "class" of its citizens beneath contempt, wouldn't you agree that something is a bit "off"?

Born into Brothels ignores local organizing efforts and instead gives us more images of white savior by obonin June 3, 2005 - 4:30 PM PDT
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5 out of 15 members found this review helpful
Partha Banerjee worked on the film as an interpreter. Upon seeing the final product, and then hearing that the film had won a nomination for Best Documentary from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS, the Oscar award people), Mr. Banerjee wrote a letter to AMPAS explaining why the film should not be so recognized. His letter addresses some of the questions raised by the film. In it, he writes,

&I take issues with the often-explicit presumption by both the filmmakers and the U.S. media personalities (including the nominators at AMPAS) that the efforts by Ms. Briski and Mr. Kauffman were able to uplift the children from the poverty and destitution they live in. In fact, that presumption is not true. I visited these children a number of times during the last couple of years and found out that almost all the children are now living even a worse life than they were in before Ms. Briski began working with them&At the same time, their sex worker parents believed that with so much unrestricted access to their secretive lives they had provided to the filmmakers, and that too, so generously (were their written consent ever requested and received by the filmmakers?), there would be a way their children would also be sharing some of the glories the filmmakers are now shining in. &The conjecture drawn by the makers of Born into Brothels that it was only them that were responsible for any humanity and benevolence doled out to these children and their parents is simply absurd. (February 1, 2005)

Extract from http://www.samarmagazine.org/archive/article.php?id=190




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