what i'm watching: born into brothels

If you haven't yet seen the documentary "Born Into Brothels," please put it on your list. The DVD hung around our house for half the year, but we finally watched it last week. It's well worth your time.

Zana Briski, a photographer based in New York, went to India to live with and photograph the women in Calcutta's red light district. Briski became friends with the women's children, and began to teach them photography. From this, an idea was born. Briski became determined to get the kids a decent education and help change their future.

"Born Into Brothels" is much more than your standard "get out of the ghetto" story. These kids were absolutely destined to live the same lives as their parents. The outside world shuns them. Good schools will not accept them, because their parents live illegally. There is literally no choice. For the girls, it is only a matter of time before they become sex workers, too. They know this, and they dread it, but they are powerless to avoid it. Here, the phrase that rings constantly through my mind and on this blog - geography is destiny - is painfully and inescapably chiseled in stone.

It begins with a photography class, and it grows. Later, Briski arranges to have the kids' photographs shown in a gallery in New York. There's a Sotheby's auction, all the proceeds going to fund the kids' education. (The kids watch the auction on a webcam. Great stuff.) Eventually, Briski starts a foundation: Kids With Cameras.

There are chapters in Calcutta, Haiti, Jerusalem and Cairo. Their mission:
Kids with Cameras is a non-profit organization that teaches the art of photography to marginalized children in communities around the world. We use photography to capture the imaginations of children, to empower them, building confidence, self-esteem and hope. We share their vision and voices with the world through exhibitions, books, websites and film. We are committed to furthering their general education beyond photography either by linking with local organizations to provide scholarships or by developing our own schools with a focus on leadership and the arts.
Whenever you see a story about impoverished kids discovering art - be it photography, music, dance, singing, writing - inevitably, one or two very talented young people emerge. It never fails. How much talent is out there in the world, undeveloped? How many potential artists will never know what's inside them, because they aren't exposed to art?

Despite "Born Into Brothels" winning the 2005 Academy Award for Best Documentary, this is one film that should really be seen DVD; it's the DVD extras that make the movie. There's a follow-up with the kids, which fleshes out their stories, a mini-movie of the kids watching and commenting on the finished film, and a Charlie Rose interview with the filmmakers.

The Kids With Cameras website has lots of great info on the program and the kids it works with. Here's more about the movie and the DVD. See this movie!

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