Born Into Brothels: Live. Shoot. Stay or Go.

Film-maker Zana Briski with one of the children.

Film-maker Zana Briski with one of the children.

A powerful  collaboration by documentary film-makers Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman.

In this documentary, these two film-makers, who spent several years in an Indian district Sognachi, Calcutta, a place where every child is in a household full of criminals, and thus cannot be accepted into any school. This is a documentary in which the film-maker Zana Briski – whose voice is heard throughout the documentary – informs us that the initial idea was to capture the lives of people who live in this red light district. She proceeds to tell us that she became particularly interested in the children and began teaching them photography skills.

This is a documentary in which journalism meets the emotional engagement of a film-maker; a film in which children of prostitutes unwittingly learn to see and capture the artistic elements of the dangerous environment they are raised in. We see Briski interact with the children and their families on a regular basis, allowing them to tell their own stories. She does this with the individual interviews and constructs the umbrella narrative with her own voice.

I love the manner in which they approach the filming techniques in an unconventional manner which allows us to look at the film with an eye that appreciates photography. There are parts where the film-maker shows us a shot of the image that a child has taken, about a second after they have taken it. Many shots in this piece are taken stylistically, allowing you to forget the duration of this documentary – yes, it is quite long.

The story, I would say, is told primarily through the voices of the different children, but we see it with through unknowing eyes of one who is an outsider, seeing things for the first time. In this case, the outsiders are the film-makers. This film is interactive in that, we are aware of the presence of the film-maker.

A possible ethical problem I noted in regards to the Interactive Mode of story-telling was “how involved can the film-maker get?” In this documentary, the filmmakers are very determined to find a way for the children to live outside the environment that almost inevitably swallows one and does not allow one to dream.

If you look at camera work, you will notice that they often film using the hand-held technique (without a tripod, for those who have no idea what I am talking about). My lecturer very often advises us against using this technique, as the footage comes out looking untidy and badly composed. In this film, this works so well, because it somehow makes you feel as though you are walking with the children (thank goodness for subtitles, otherwise you would have no idea what they were saying) and exploring the area along with the film-makers.

This beautiful documentary, which, to me depicts the lives of the people in Calcutta in a way more raw than any Hollywood movie can try to – won an Oscar. So, I am not just trying to convince you to watch it as part of my Television Journalism assignment. Among those who watch it, some cry and some are left speechless.

You just need to see it for yourself.


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