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.

A tribute to the resiliency of childhood and the restorative power of art, BORN INTO BROTHELS is a portrait of several unforgettable children who live in Calcutta’s red light district, where there mothers work as prostitutes. Spurred by the kids’ facination with her camera, Zana Briski, a New-York-based photographer living in the brothels and documenting life there, decides to teach them photography. As they begin to look at and record their world through new eyes, the kids, who society refused to recognize, awaken for the first time to their own talents and sense of worth. Filmmakers Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski capture the way in which beauty can be found even the seemingly bleakest and most helpless of places, and how art and education can empower children to transform their lives.

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