Born into Brothels, 2003

In 1998, photojournalist Zana Briski came to Calcutta’s red light district to live in the subhuman conditions of a typical area boarding house among the prostitutes in order to chronicle their existence and soon became drawn into the world of their children who, because of their parents’ involvement in the sex trade, are denied acceptance to schools and a proper education that, in essence, condemns them to the same fate as their parents. Returning to the boarding house with several point-and-shoot cameras, Briski begins to teach the children about photography, composition, and editing, often taking them on field trips to idyllic locations – zoos, rural farmlands, and the beach – that seem far removed from their circumstances in order to inspire their creativity (and perhaps, to show them the possibility of a world outside the red light district). However, realizing that these diversionary excursions were only a transitory escape for these children, Briski then committed herself to finding a way out of the brothels for them. The film then chronicles her attempts to raise awareness for the children’s plight with the goal of raising enough money to send them to a boarding house for an undistracted education (and away from the sex trade where a girl is often brought in to work in “the line” by the time she is 14). Perhaps the singularly most humbling and remarkably inspiring film I have ever seen in a long time on selflessness, compassion, instilling hope, and human decency, Born into Brothels is a lucid and unsentimental, yet profoundly moving document of humanitarianism.

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