2004 ACADEMY AWARD WINNER FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY BORN INTO BROTHELS is an inspiring look at the transformative journey of a group of extraordinary children in Calcutta?s red light district. Voted Best Documentary by the Na... more »tional Board of Review and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. BORN INTO BROTHELS, which was produced and directed by New York based filmmakers Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, also garnered over 20 major film festival awards including the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and the Best Documentary Award at the Seattle International Film Festival. 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 the red light district of Calcutta where their mothers work as prostitutes. Zana Briski, a New York based photographer, gives each of these youngsters a camera and teaches them how to take pictures, simultaneously causing them to look at their world with new eyes. Together with Ross Kauffman, Briski captures the magical way in which beauty can be found in the most unlikely of places and how a bright and promising future becomes a possibility for children who previously had no future at all. Touching and heartfelt, yet devoid of sentimentality, BORN INTO BROTHELS defies the tear-stained tourist snapshot of the global underbelly. Briski spent years with these children and became a part of their lives. Their photographs are prisms into their souls, rather than anthropological curiosities, and a true testimony to the power of the indelible creative spirit.« less
Leah G. (Leahbelle) from GROVER BEACH, CA Reviewed on 4/30/2012...
Wonderful story, very realistic. You forget anyone's acting.
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.
Best Documentary Oscar Winner
B. Merritt | WWW.FILMREVIEWSTEW.COM, Pacific Grove, California | 09/02/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One of the most despicable things that has to do with this film is that there aren't more glowing reviews of it here at Amazon.com. Why is that? Come on people! There must've been a wide viewing audience of it since its win at the Academy Awards!
We (i.e., The U.S.) don't often see the grittiest side of life. And when I say gritty, I MEAN gritty. The audience takes an emotional roller coaster ride with narrator and director Zana Brisky as she visits the red light district in Calcutta. Here she meets up with eight children who are the off-spring of prostitutes who "work the line", trying to make enough money to buy their next meal. The children seem doomed to a life of extreme poverty and, most likely for the girls, to also "work the line" when they reach the ripe old age of 14 or 15.
But Mrs. Brisky decides to teach the children how to shoot photographs of their surroundings (she gives each of them a simple point and shoot camera) and engages them in weekly classroom-like visits, showing them the photos they shot the previous days and telling them what they did right and wrong. The children are immediately smitten by the idea of becoming photographers, and they seem to be lifted out of their horrible surroundings, dreaming of becoming world-famous photo-journalists.
Throughout the film we see mostly the children, which I found to be extremely refreshing as far as documentaries go. Most documentaries (I feel) put too much emphasis on the documentary maker(s) and show shot after shot of them rather than the subjects their supposed to be telling the audience about. But not here. Only a fraction of the footage is dedicated to images of Mrs. Brisky, and those portions were vital to the film. Mrs. Brisky tries to get the children out of their hovel as often as she can, and when she does -- for instance when she takes them for their first trip ever to the sea shore -- you can see the children light up (they dance and sing). But when they return to the red light district, their tone quickly sombers. The viewer sees (and feels) this time and again.
The amazing thing, too, is that the children become very able photographers, even having one of their photos appear on the cover of the Amnesty International calendar for 2005.
I should warn you, though, that the documentary doesn't sugar-coat anything (including some horrendous language, child abuse, death, murder, and the risk of HIV). But after watching this incredibly engaging film, I can easily see why it won Best Documentary during the Oscars."
The Lives, Hope, & Creativity of Calcutta's Lowly Children.
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 07/22/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."
A PHOTO OPPORTUNITY...
Lawyeraau | Balmoral Castle | 11/26/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This documentary focuses on the children of the prostitutes of Calcutta's red light district and their introduction to photography. It provides only a glancing glimpse into their lives, as the filmmakers were often prohibited from filming in the brothels. This can be disappointing to those who are looking for more of an expose type of documentary. Still, the eight children upon whom the filmmakers focus charm the viewer with a fresh-faced, hopeful innocence that often belies the knowing look in their eyes, as they are all fully aware of what it is that their mothers do for a living.
The filmmakers make a concerted effort to provide these children with alternatives to the lifestyle that they see every day and passes for the norm within the red light district. Initially, they simply teach them the art of photography, so that they may be able to express themselves through photographs. The children earn some international acclaim for their efforts, and the filmmakers begin a financial trust account for the children as prints of their photographs rack up sales. Later, they try to ensure that the children have an opportunity for an education that will expose them to a larger world view and allow them to make an informed choice as to what they can do in life. Some of the children take advantage of the opportunities presented, while others do not.
The film is somewhat choppy, as it is comprised of an amalgamation of still photography and video and, at times, lacks some coherence, despite the subtitles. Consequently, when I first saw the film, I was disappointed. I decided to view it a second time; this time with the filmmakers running commentary, and it made a difference. The commentary provided some much needed cohesion. In the final analysis, however, I was quite surprised to learn that this film won an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2005, given some of its shortcomings."
Life in Calcutta's underbelly
Kali | United Kingdom | 04/09/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Quite simply this is a film that chronicles two foreign photographers, Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman's determined efforts to expose a hidden world that is Calcutta's red light district.
A hidden world that is ignored by those lucky enough not to live in it.
Zana who had lived in India on and off for many years had the idea to bring together a group of children, the sons and daughters of prostitutes living in the red light distrct to photograph the world in which they lived, worked and played in.
Armed with basic cameras the children find an outlet in photography, each child showing a different flair in portraying the imagery around them, from their families, the squalor on the streets, a trip to the seaside, a visit to the zoo, every picture tells a story of that child and his or her interaction with those around them.
Be prepared when watching this documentary for strong language, and powerful imagery in the guise of simple statements like, "I have no hope" along with the knowledge that some of these children will not leave the red light district despite the help they are being given by Zana and Ross.
The ties that bind are strong, and many of the young girls accept, albeit reluctantly the fact they will one day take up the work of their mothers whilst their husbands and male siblings look on helplessly, because they are unable to provide for them, and therefore life as a sex worker will at least put food in the bellies of hungry children.
This is not a perfect documentary in any sense of the word but is in fact a snapshot into a world most of us will never venture into because we are very lucky here in the West, we were not born into brothels, we are not Calcutta's red light kids and most of all we are not destined "walk the line" as fallen women whose legacy for their children is tragic as it is sordid."
Torn Up and Touched
Eric Wilson | Nashville, TN United States | 04/13/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As a child, I lived for six months in India. I love to read books or watch films which depict the beauty and heartbreak of this amazing country. With this in mind, I rented the movie and hoped to share some of my memories with my two daughters.
My daughters, 11 and 13, aren't usually excited about documentaries. Within ten minutes they were hooked. We were taken into the lives of some children from a particular red light district. We saw their joy, personalities, struggles, abuse, and the eventual dark lives that awaited each of them. Yet, through the gift of art and photography, we saw them come alive with new hopes and goals.
The story is told without emotional saturation; it shows very little of the exploitation that goes on in the mothers' lives as prostitutes; but it manages to stir our empathy for this handful of children. By the end, I had tears in my eyes. I was happy for those who broke free from dismal futures, and I was torn up by the thought of the lives some of them are now forced to lead.
The work of Auntie Zana, the woman who teaches them photography, is wonderful. She shows true care for the kids, fighting for their educations and futures. Jesus said, "Let the little ones come unto me," and that's the type of love Zana personifies here. It's a beautiful thing."