Zana Briski did not go to the red light district to become a hero or be seen as a saint. She went to tell the story of what life is like in the Brothels, and along the way was inspired to teach the children of the prostitutes photography when they were excited by her camera. However, the story doesn’t just end there. She, and her directing partner Ross Kauffman, became so inspired by the pictures the children took, that they started a fund whereby the kids sell their pictures to fund not only their education, but hopefully their evacuation from the a place that really holds no future for them.
How in the world can you fault the intentions of Briski and Kauffman? The story they tell is so interesting, honest and poignant that I came away from this film almost shellshocked. I think it is amazing the sense of self that art gives people. These are kids who without this medium, might never have found a means of self expression. I also love that other than Briski’s photography class, which really wasn’t formal in any way, these children are working off of pure fascination and creativity. Within this, they just create things that good or bad, are theirs and as they this bolsters their feelings of self worth. While not every kid is going to be able to get out of the Brothels, they may eventually have a better life because of what they’ve learned about themselves.
Director’s Commentary; Special Video Commentary with the Kids Watching the movie and Deleted Scenes
I could have done without Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski’s commentary track. I don’t know what it was exactly, but they just seemed to keep beating me over the head with, “We know this is bad but this is what life is like in the brothels.” It seemed almost as if they were apologizing for having made this movie. It just got a little much at times. The “Special Video Commentary” was interesting because while the kids are older now, they are still kids so they aren’t afraid to just speak their minds. If they thought something was “cute,” or if something funny happens, they don’t feel the need to be as restrained as adults do when they do these commentary tracks. The “Deleted Scenes” were mainly just elongated segments from the film. Some of them are “Aquatica”, “Bob Pledge” and “Amnesty International Calendar.” There are also scenes that were never in the movie, but personally I think this documentary is just fine as it is and maybe the DVD didn’t even need to have this bonus feature?
”Reconnecting”; Interview Segment on Charlie Rose; “Academy Awards Acceptance Speech” and Production Stills
“Reconnecting” is my favorite featurette on this DVD. In fact, this feature is DVD at it’s best. After watching the movie, you can then see how the kids are doing now. It is very heartening to see the effect that not only their work has had on them, but that this movie has had on them. If they gave away awards for best featurette (and who knows, they might?) this feature would definitely be in consideration. I really like the way Charlie Rose interviews his subjects. There is a freewheeling nature to it that seems to get people talking in such a way that they aren’t as guarded. Granted, I don’t think Briski and Kauffman say anything here that we don’t already know, it is still a very good back and forth conversation. The “Academy Awards Acceptance Speech” is pretty self explanatory and the “Production Stills” is a mixture of “on set” shots taken by the filmmakers and the kids.
Full Screen - (4:3). I am not sure what kind of camera was used to make this documentary, but it was most certainly of the DV variety. This movie looks really good simply because the subject matter really fits the medium. If this film had been shot on 35 mm film, it would make the images too clean and slick. It would add a level of professionalism that I don’t think this movie needed. As it is a film about kids discovering and honing their filmic talents, this movie seems to be doing that as well. It starts off gritty and while it never loses that, we see it build layer by layer until we realize that the story is what is important and not the medium it was captured on.
Dolby Digital - English. English and Bengali 5.1 Stereo Sound. As most of this film is subtitled with intermittent narration, I found the sound reminded me of something you might see on Frontline. There is various music from time to time, but I like that it wasn’t used to guide emotions but more to underscore them. This is a very thin line and these filmmakers did a good job of straddling it. There is a very ethereal quality to this whole movie. The audio doesn’t whitewash their situation, so much as within the situation these kids are in, it tries to find some of the youth that they have lost.
The cover features all the main kids in a nice composed shot against a blue background. The back has shots and pictures from the movie that have been laid against film strips. There is a really well written description of what Born Into Brothels is about, a large “Special Features” listing, a credits list and some technical specs. This packaging very adequately tells the story of what this documentary is about, while letting us know that this is a harsh world that the viewer will be entering. A booklet also comes with this DVD which tells us a little more about the kids as well the group “Kids With Cameras.” While very minimalist in it’s layout, it is a nice primer before watching this film.
Okay, while I have some personal feelings about the whole idea of “special interest” films, and how it seems like you have to really make “harsh” movies about “uncomfortable” subjects (for some) in order to get anywhere, Born Into Brothels is a great movie. Granted, I would love to see more filmmakers turn their cameras toward America, and maybe not always have to look at things at the high and low end of the economic stratosphere, I really do find that most of the documentary films from ThinkFilm are quite good. I would just like to see more of a balance in the subject matter.
Again, I really think that it’s funny how Hollywood can spend millions on a big budget movie that is cliché and uninteresting, and then a movie like Born Into Brothels comes along and looks like it was made with glue and rubberbands, and it undoubtedly has more to offer in every sense. While I don’t think that all films need to be like this, I do think that a movie like this needs to be made and screened, and thankfully both things happened and are happening more frequently for films like Born Into Brothels.
Born into Brothels was released December 8, 2004.