DVD Review: Born into Brothels
Release Date: September 20, 2005
Distributor: HBO/Think Film
· Zana Briski
· Ross Kauffman
· Zana Briski
· Kids with Cameras
by Chad Maddux
Published: September 20, 2005
Eight children, born to prostitutes in the Red Light district of Calcutta, India get the opportunity to show their world through the medium of photography. One woman, born in England, tries to save them all. The Academy Award-winning "Born into Brothels" is the story of those eight kids, their photography, and their painful lives.
Each of the children is profiled in the film accompanied by a presentation of their best photographs. They have all been provided cameras by Zana Briski, a photographer herself, who sets up a photography class for the children. Over the course of years, she gets to know the children and their stories too well and decides she needs to do something to help better their lives. She is afraid the girls will end up "in the line" like their mothers and the boys will end up in their own bad situations.
The film provides a realistic and troubling look at the lives of children with nothing destined to always have nothing. The photographs, in many instances, show extraordinary talent. One such instance is when Avijit, arguably the most talented of the group, takes a photograph on the beach while pouring water out of a bucket. It sounds simple but was probably difficult to do, holding the camera with one hand and dumping a bucket of water with the other while keeping the two apart. Another photo, which was my favorite, was taken at the zoo. It was a close-up of a primate with a look so strikingly anguished that I almost wanted to cry. (As an animal lover, the zoo sequence was unpleasant.)
Admittedly, the film could be seen more as Zana's attempt to save the children than it is just about the children. Although I can understand that stance, I disagree. It certainly shows Zana's struggle to help the children but that is a very important element. In India, the children of prostitutes are regarded with much the same status as their parents. Simply wanting to help is only the first step in a long, long fight. Had her efforts to help the children been omitted from the film, she would have been seen as simply exploiting the children without helping them. The film would then have had a much different tone.
The film overall is excellent but difficult to describe beyond what I've already said. Repeatedly throughout the film, I had the overwhelming sensation to just grab the children and put them in a better situation here in America. After finishing, I reflected on that feeling, concluding that a better life for them wouldn't necessarily be here. Obviously, living where they were was terrible but moving to the boarding houses still in India seemed to work well for some of them. Perhaps, an educated and thriving existence in their native country would be far better than anything our society could offer.
Finally, while this film has adult elements in it, this would be the perfect film to show one of our many spoiled, whining, American brats. Throughout the film, two elements, struggle and simplistic happiness, emerge as overwhelming themes. From dragging buckets of water up the stairs and working long hours to the simple childhood joy of a Canon camera, "Born into Brothels" is the best film I've seen in a long time.
The bonus offerings start off with the directors commenting during the presentation of the film offering some insights into various aspects of the film. "Reconnecting" gave some brief updates on the kids and how they are doing three years later. At 36 minutes long, the "Special Video" with a side-by-side presentation of selected scenes from the movie and the kids' reactions as they watch it for the first time was the best bonus feature. Watching the kids react to themselves and their own lives was especially poignant.
The remaining offerings are fairly interesting but are "standard" bonus content. One shows the acceptance speech from the Academy Awards. Another features an interview by Charlie Rose. Some deleted scenes, production stills, trailers, and more information on the not-for-profit organization Kids with Cameras, linked below, round out the offerings. All around, the bonus content complements this extraordinary film very well.
Film Grade: A
Bonus Material Grade: B+
Special Video Commentary by the Kids Watching Selected Scenes
"Reconnecting" Three Years Later
Interview Segment with Charlie Rose
Academy Award Acceptance Speech
About Kids with Cameras
"Born into Brothels" is rated R (some sequences of strong violence).
Second photograph courtesy of Kids with Cameras.