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Overall Rating

Awesome: 34.21%
Worth A Look55.26%
Average: 2.63%
Pretty Bad: 5.26%
Total Crap: 2.63%

4 reviews, 14 user ratings

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Born Into Brothels
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by Collin Souter

"Most documentaries ask tough questions. This one has an answer."
4 stars

(SCREENED AT THE 2004 CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL) I only knew one thing about Born Into Brothels prior to watching it: It’s a documentary about the children of prostitutes in Calcutta. Well, load up the revolver, point it at the head and on with the show! We are not in for a fun-loving romp. Yet, as the movie got going I realized I stopped reading its capsule synopsis a little too soon. This is not a movie about kids with no future. It’s a movie about kids lucky enough to have been given a chance.

The movie could have taken an obvious, exploitative approach to its subject (eight kids growing up in the impoverished red light district of Calcutta), but filmmakers Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman take an active role by engaging the kids in photography workshops. These children—normally doomed to a future in prostitution or alcoholism—begin to feel a newfound sense of self-worth and artistic empowerment once they see their world through the lens of a camera.

They become so good, their photographs end up in exhibits and a wealth of opportunities begin to open. The film also chronicles Briski’s struggle to obtain passports so the children may travel outside their homeland and attend better schools. Briski runs through miles of red tape and bureaucracy, but refuses to give up. One question still remains: Once the kids get into the schools, will they stick with the program or lay doomed to an empty future?

“Born Into Brothels” treads on delicate grounds. On one hand, the filmmakers could have taken an easy, manipulative route by hiding in the dark corners of Calcutta with camera in hand waiting for raw footage of prostitutes in peril. On the other hand, by taking an active role, Briski runs the risk of seeming too self-congratulatory by making the documentary more about her and less about the kids.

Miraculously, “Born Into Brothels” avoids falling into either trap. Although, the film does feature plenty of discomforting moments involving the kids and their prostitute/alcoholic parents and Briski does turn the camera on herself from time to time, the movie manages to transcend these ethical dilemmas and end up being about something much more important: These kids have a way out that they didn’t have before.

Because the story often gets told through their eyes, viewers might be surprised by how lively and energetic the movie ends up being. We get the sense of freedom and joy not just by seeing the world open up to these kids once they start taking pictures, but through Ziski and Kauffman’s obvious passion for their subjects and their desire to make a difference.

Of course, the movie remains a sad one. I wanted to see each and every one of these kids to succeed. Yet, I felt happy to have watched the movie and knowing people like Kauffman and Briski were out there trying to make the world a better place. Usually, documentaries ask hard, probing questions. Refreshingly, “Born Into Brothels” is about a person with an answer.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Portions of this review can be found in the Chicago International Film Festival guidebook, also written by Collin Souter.

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originally posted: 10/11/04 14:46:01
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Boston Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Boston Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival. For more in the 2005 Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/10/12 Gundoskve Aloha! kin 2 stars
2/07/12 Gundosgnn Aloha! fwi 2 stars
9/20/06 Dane Flynn This was the worst movie ive seen in my life, so damn boring and i had to read for 2h 1 stars
4/01/06 Suzz One of the best documentaries I've ever seen 5 stars
12/06/05 Phil M. Aficionado Beauty & hope amidst squalor; uplifting & disquieting -- like life; heartfelt & haunting 5 stars
12/01/05 kathy I totally fell in love with each and every child in this compelling documentary. 5 stars
10/19/05 john w sullivan very life enhancing 4 stars
8/21/05 Will if you didn't 'care about the kids' on this one, you have no soul 5 stars
3/09/05 Gini Poor camera work. Spellbound made us care more about the kids. Won Oscar on subject matter 3 stars
2/09/05 Ray Great movie 4 stars
1/30/05 Winston Steward Utterly Amazing. A wonderful film 5 stars
8/28/04 Winnie Dawson Entertaining, poignant look at the sociocultural effects of parent's choices on children. 5 stars
6/18/04 Mitali Chakraborty AMAZING....excellent job in portraying the culture, language and truth 5 stars
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  08-Dec-2004 (R)
  DVD: 20-Sep-2005



Directed by
  Zana Briski
  Ross Kauffman

Written by
  Zana Briski
  Ross Kauffman


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