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The Independent Critic

Calcutta's Red Light Kids
Zana Briski, Ron Kauffman
Rated R
85 Mins.
HBO/Cinemax Documentary
 "Born Into Brothels" Review 
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"Born Into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids" is a reminder of the power of the documentary to educate, inspire and share openly and honestly the world that surrounds us. The 2004 Oscar winner for "Best Documentary Feature," "Born Into Brothels" is a film of intense beauty, insight, hope and inspiration.

Detailing the journey of Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, two documentary filmmakers/photographers, as they traveled through Calcutta visiting with children of prostitutes who work the Red Light District, "Born Into Brothels" could easily have been content to sell the drama of a, in fact, very dramatic story. Instead, Briski and Kauffman went deep within the story to share a journey with these children that is filled with innocence and hope and wonder even in the context of great challenge and what many would consider despair and darkness.

The filmmakers create a world of hope, albeit tiny rays of hope, by sharing with the children photography. To see the visions created by the children, the worlds they photograph is powerful without a word being spoken. Yet, it must be understood that this was not a fly by night filming. Briski herself lived in Calcutta during much of three years and the relationship she developed during this time is evident throughout the film. The resulting works by the children are poignant, tender and, at times, quite sad. Yet, they are all beautiful. The film also shares the journey to attempt to somehow alter the destinies of these children...despite tremendous bureaucratic opposition in India, the children experienced photo exhibits and many other wonders. 12 of the photos were featured on an Amnesty International calendar, one child had a photo featured in an exhibit in another country AND an ensuing non-profit organization called "Kids With Pictures" has helped create hope and opportunity for the kids.

Technically, "Born Into Brothels" is wonderfully made and visually beautiful without hiding the truth and "ugliness" of Calcutta's Red Light District. The ability to achieve this balance is an outstanding achievement for the filmmakers, and the balance is further evident when the presence of the children is added.

In a year of tremendous documentaries, "Born Into Brothels" rises above them all with a story hope within great challenge...a unique vision and a captivating story created with stunning detail and artistry. Tarnation? Nope. Supersize Me? Not a chance. Fahrenheit 9/11? No way. "Born Into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids" IS the Best Documentary of 2004.


© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic