The most stigmatized people in Calcutta's red light district are not the prostitutes, but their children. In the face of abject poverty, abuse, and despair, these kids have little possibility of escaping their mother's fate or for creating another type of life. Directors Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman chronicle the amazing transformation of the children they come to know in the red light district. Briski, a professional photographer, gives them lessons and cameras, igniting latent sparks of artistic genius that reside in these children who live in the most sordid and seemingly hopeless world. The photographs taken by the children are not merely examples of remarkable observation and talent; they reflect something much larger, morally encouraging, and even politically volatile: art as an immensely liberating and empowering force. The winner of the 77th annual Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Born into Brothels offers a tribute to the resiliency of childhood and the restorative power of art.
Set in Calcutta's notorious red-light district, Born Into Brothels explores the lives of its most vulnerable citizens. Directed by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, the picture’s eight small subjects shot the still footage themselves. Briski first teaches them how to shoot and edit. The children then put her lessons into practice. They gain confidence as the film proceeds, yet there's always the threat that any of the girls, especially 14-year-old Suchitra, could be forced to "join the line" (work as a prostitute). For most, it's only a matter of time. The boys don't have it much better. Promising photographer Avijit's mother is gone and his father is a drug addict. "Without help," Briski notes, "they're doomed," so she takes matters a step further and tries to get them out of the brothels altogether. Produced for HBO, this heartbreaking, if inspiring film won the 2005 Academy Award for best documentary feature. --Kathleen C. Fennessy