'Brothels' gives focus to hope

-- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

PLOT: Zana Briski gave still cameras to some street kids in Calcutta, and the resulting photos wound up changing everybody's life for the better.

Born Into Brothels is a documentary about changing the lives of children through art.

Photographer Zana Briski went to Calcutta a few years ago to take pictures of, among other things, that city's red-light district. Briski lived among the prostitutes of Sonagachi and wound up spending a lot of time with the kids of the community. She taught a handful of them how to take photographs, and the results were astounding.

The children featured in Born Into Brothels live in filth and chaos (and danger) and endure various types of abuse -- and yet, they are still joyous and filled with wonder at the world around them.

Puja, who is 11, thinks of what she might do with an education. Ten-year-old Kochi is very shy. Avijit, who is 12, is a gifted painter and photographer.

There are eight children at the centre of Born Into Brothels, and the film concerns the changes that are brought about through something as simple as taking photographs.

Thanks to Briski, there are small trips -- to the zoo and to the beach to take pictures -- and there are also huge journeys. Briski organizes a show of the children's photographs. Big things happen.

Their pictures become part of the Amnesty International calendar for 2003. Avijit gets invited by the World Press Photo Foundation in Amsterdam to be part of their Children's Jury. There are shows in Calcutta and in New York.

Briski and her co-director, Ross Kauffman, have said that they fell in love with these children and wanted others to fall in love with the children, too, and that's exactly what Born Into Brothels achieves. Briski begins working to get the children out of the brothels and into boarding schools, a process that involves coping with insane amounts of government bureaucracy, getting HIV testing for every child, convincing parents to let a potential child prostitute be a full-time student, instead.

Born Into Brothels has won Best Documentary or Audience Award, or both, at the 30 film festivals where it has played in the last year.

It was chosen Best Documentary by many film critics groups, and is nominated for an Oscar in the Best Documentary category at the 2005 Academy Awards.

Briski, meanwhile, has created a charitable organization to continue fundraising for these children and others like them: kids-with-cameras.org

Born Into Brothels is a documentary full of hope. That, in our humble opinion, is worth the price of admission.

(This film is rated 14-A)


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