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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Lives, Hope, & Creativity of Calcutta's Lowly Children.
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...
Published on July 22, 2005 by mirasreviews

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unflinching portrayal of the lives of a group of children in Sonagachi
Sonagachi is the infamous red light district in Calcutta, where brothels abound, and prostitution is a way of life. "Born Into Brothels" is an award-winning documentary that focuses on a group of children born into this seedy environment, and who are mentored by a Western photographer, Zana Briski who teaches them photography in the hopes of fostering their dreams for a...
Published on January 24, 2009 by Z Hayes


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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Lives, Hope, & Creativity of Calcutta's Lowly Children., July 22, 2005
This review is from: Born into Brothels (DVD)
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 [...] .

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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94 of 114 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Documentary Oscar Winner, September 2, 2005
By 
B. Merritt "filmreviewstew.com" (WWW.FILMREVIEWSTEW.COM, Pacific Grove, California United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Born into Brothels (DVD)
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.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unflinching portrayal of the lives of a group of children in Sonagachi, January 24, 2009
This review is from: Born into Brothels (DVD)
Sonagachi is the infamous red light district in Calcutta, where brothels abound, and prostitution is a way of life. "Born Into Brothels" is an award-winning documentary that focuses on a group of children born into this seedy environment, and who are mentored by a Western photographer, Zana Briski who teaches them photography in the hopes of fostering their dreams for a better future.

I think Ms Briski has her heart in the right place - she opens the minds of these underprivileged children to a world that they probably would never have given much thought to otherwise. Teaching them to take pictures made them 'see' another world outside their poverty-ridden neighborhood, to appreciate little accomplishments even in their deprived circumstances, and to dream of a better life.

That being said - though her efforts here are laudable, it is obvious through the course of the documentary and at the end, that 'rescuing' these children was never an easy task, nor something that had the guarantee of success. This doesn't diminish her efforts, but it does give us pause for thought - what could have been done to ensure these and other children in similar plight would be spared the fate awaiting them - a life of selling one's body for pittance, debasement, and a never-ending cycle of abuse and poverty. Education was promoted as the key to the childrens' futures here, but in reality all but two of the children chose to remain in the boarding schools that Ms Briski had painstakingly got them admitted into.

In reality, there are no easy answers. The documentary does a wonderful job of showing these children with their dreams of a brighter tomorrow. It also paints a dreary picture of their living conditions in the brothel, of the verbal abuse they bear and have to listen to, almost on a daily basis ["prostitute talk"] and of the utter hopelessness of their lives, which many of them seem to bear stoically. Though this may seem remarkable to many, these children know of no other life, and it is 'normal' for them to live the way they do. Ms Brinski tries valiantly to pluck them away from the brothels, but ultimately, many of them choose to return or have no say in the matter, having 'lost' their 'voices' the moment they were born into the brothels.

I watched another documentary recently [can't recall the title], that focused on the efforts of a Nepalese teenager & ex-prostitute who also tries to rescue girls from the brothels in Mumbai, and in fact goes undercover to 'kidnap' these girls and admit them into shelters and schools for exploited children/girls. Just as in Ms Briski's case, some of her rescuees returned to the brothels of their own accord. In many of these failed cases of rescue, it seems the family relationships that binds these girls and children are just too complex to be unravelled. Many of these exploited children are emotionally bound to their families and have been drilled since young to believe they have a duty to their family, to go into the 'profession' and accept responsibility, to feed the aging members of their family, many of whom continue to reside in the brothels long after 'retirement' and to their dying day - it's not just mothers, but grandmothers, aunts, and yes, the parasitical men who feed off their daughters, sisters and wives.

In conclusion - this DVD provides an interesting insight into the lives of a couple of these 'brothel children', yet it by no means provides a complete account of the whys & hows nor does it address the means to ensure a higher rate of success at rescuing these at-risk children.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life in Calcutta's underbelly, April 9, 2006
By 
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.
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21 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A PHOTO OPPORTUNITY..., November 26, 2005
This review is from: Born into Brothels (DVD)
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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Springing up through the cracks, August 1, 2006
This review is from: Born into Brothels (DVD)
"Born into Brothels" is a breath of fresh air in a sea of squallor. Rather than exploring the darkness that penetrates and poisons a thing bright, an equation slathered up by filmmakers such as Mike Leigh, Todd Solondz, Luis Bunuel, Orson Welles, John Cassavettes, Atom Egoyan, Stanley Kubrick and so forth with gusto, directors Ross Kaufmann and Zana Briski have managed here to celebrate the beauty that survives within degradation. Many doubts, like life, surface during the film, but I can think of no greater testament to hope than the spark of creativity burning in the eyes of these children who live like caged beasts, but refuse to be beaten down. Briski is a photographer who has for years lived with the prostitutes of Calcutta's red light district, a sort of ground zero for moral decay that makes San Francisco's Tenderloin district look like a country club in comparison. Mingling with the brothels' kids, she decides to teach them photography as a form of communication, to see how they view their world. These kids, who are furnished with their own cameras, turn out to have a wealth of creativity and she works to save them from a future living the same destitute lives as their mothers. One girl is beaten by her father and mother on a daily basis. Another girl is never allowed to leave her house, and would likely never have ventured outdoors had it not been for Briski coordinating trips to the zoo and a water park. All the girls do chores from sunup to sundown and are privy to so much verbal and physical abuse that they are resigned to lives in which pain and sadness are as certain as the sun and the moon. But by film's end, you learn that at least a few of these brothel descendants will be furnished with all the tools to dig their way out.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Torn Up and Touched, April 13, 2006
By 
Eric Wilson "author" (Nashville, TN United States) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Born into Brothels (DVD)
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.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beauty Can Exist in Darkness, February 6, 2006
This review is from: Born into Brothels (DVD)
Avijit, one of the child photographers in "Born into Brothels", describes a photograph of a poor woman as "beautiful" because it tells the truth. For this reason and more "Born into Brothels" is beautiful. It tells the story of a photographer who moves into Calcutta's red light district thinking she would capture the lives of the women, but ends-up falling in love with their children instead. She gives these children cameras and teaches them photography, which opens a new world to them - a world she hopes will lead to a better life. She even gets them a show at Sotheby's in an effort to raise funds for their education. It is not easy, though: some of their parents want them to follow in their footsteps, while others are reluctant to leave what they know.

I was struck most by the way the children spoke - some of the things they said were so poetic and sweet! Two of my favorite quotes were:

"I like the way Puja behaves. Whenever she eats something, she shares it with others...you don't even have to ask."
"This is why I like photography: I want to put forth the behavior of man."

The children were both innocent and mature. One can not help but pull for them.

In essence, "Born into Brothels" captures the beauty that can exist in darkness.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Making a Documentary While Making a Difference., March 5, 2006
By 
jts-hotone "Amy B." (Vancouver, WA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Born into Brothels (DVD)
This is a beautiful, haunting film that follows the lives of eight children from Calcutta who's parents work in the red light district. A woman photographer who went to India and chose to live in the red light district to photograph it ends up befriending the children. Though unplanned, she answers the children's requests to teach them photography and ultimately works to get them out of the district. It is almost certain that if she does not, the girls will become prostitutes themselves, the boys also participating in illegal activities and little or no hope that they will ever get out of the vicious cycle.

Their journey is one of strength, hope, understanding, perserverence and ultimately, love. Though the children's situation is sad and unbearable, in the end, there is hope. And it shows how art can lift the spirit and change lives forever.

I want to address something that one reviewer who gave the movie two stars mentioned. He/she said that Zana Briski promised hope and didn't deliver. The reviewer also said that there was nothing mentioned about who owned the copyright to the photographs of the children, and that they were being exploited. Neither of these comments are true.

Ms. Briski noted several times throughout the film that the proceeds of the sales of the photos was to go toward the children's education. More information on this is below.

*NOTE: If you don't want to know what happens, just trust the above comments and stop reading here*

Ms. Briski goes more in depth in the special features sections to reveal that these children have been promised whatever education they desire, including university education, and it was to be funded through the profits of the movie as well as the continued sale of their photographs in any form.

By the end of the film, Ms. Briski (who worked extremely hard to help these margainalized children) had indeed gotten several of the children out of the brothels. If you continue on to view the followups in the special features section, you will find that all of the children were offered opportunities to an education, although one girl had not accepted the offer at the end of the filming of special sections. These choices were left up to the children and their families.

Zana Briski has now founded an organization called "Kids With Cameras" that manages the funds raised from the sales of the children's images, as well as the film. So much money has now been raised that not only are the children in the film offered a full education at university, she is in the process of opening a school specifically for the children of the red light district. (Due to their parents engaging in criminal activities, most schools will not accept them). Additional funds were used to fund similar photography projects with margainalized children around the world.

The children of Calcutta are fully aware of what the money is being used for. They are all for it.

Therefore I am disputing the facts of the poster below. All of the evidence of the love and care offered these children is included in the DVD.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Doomed Children Get A Chance, August 20, 2006
This review is from: Born into Brothels (DVD)
In the red light district of Calcutta, even the burning death of a prostitute by her pimp will not warrant a visit from the police. That is the hopelessness and despair faced by young boys and girls whose mothers are sex workers in a squalid region of India.

Photographer Zana Briskas went to research the lives of the prostitutes, but ended up documenting their children instead. These bright and charming children are so strong, yet so innocent, it breaks your heart to see the conditions they are up against every day. "Auntie Zana" gave the children 35 mm flash cameras and taught them a little about photography. The kids' pictures are extraordinary.

Will Zana succeed in getting the children enrolled in a boarding school? Will the son of the prostitute who was burned to death obtain a passport to visit Amsterdam for a photo exhibition? Will the mothers themselves crush the dreams of their children for no other reasons but selfishness and ignorance? This documentary is worth watching to find out.

The main message of Born Into Brothels is that we should not just shrug our shoulders and say "there is nothing I can do to help." Zana knows photography, so that is what she offered. We can all offer a part of ourselves to others. Who knows how it may help down the road?
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Born into Brothels
Born into Brothels by Ross Kauffman (DVD - 2006)
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