Born Into Brothels was an amazing documentary about a group of children whose mothers are prostitutes in the red light district of Calcutta. The director, Zana Briski, traveled to Calcutta to photograph the women of the red light district, but became more interested in the children of these women. She decides to teach a photography class to the children in an effort to give them a hobby and talent in hopes of getting them out of the brothel. Briski also works to get the children into boarding schools.
The film was completely endearing in how it showed the chilren both together and individually, so the viewer could feel connected to their personalities and situation. After finishing the documentary I was really pumped about it and absolutely loved it. Though aside from the amazing story and development of these children, after reading some responses to the film a few things seemed problematic about the film. Many found it too one-sided, as the children's families are made out to be completely absent, completely unloving, and just generally terrible with no sign of hope or good. I completely respect and admire Briski for doing all she has for the children, and their situation is definitely dire in many ways. I understand that the film does have to have this focus to bring attention to the situation of these children, and her presence is necessary to connect her target audience with the material and efforts. However, the backlash from the children's culture and country makes you think about Briski's point of view and presentation of her subjects. A review in India's national magazine Frontline featured a story that said, "If Born Into Brothels were remade as an adventure-thriller in the tradition of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, its posters might read: "New York film-maker Zana Briski sallies forth among the natives to save souls." I think this is representative of a major problem in documentary filmmaking, especially abroad. So often we want to tell and hear the stories of those like these children. However, the backlash from the culture or lives we film shows that often they consequently feel exploited or misrepresented.
Briski received criticism from people saying that many of the children in her class did not make it out of the brothel because of her efforts. Even in the documentary it speaks briefly of those who left the schools Briski got them into. But in no way did Briski fail. Should she be criticized for not making perfect the lives of all of those children? Or does she do what she can and tell her story anyway? Taking on a documentary is always risky, because you don't know how it's going to turn out. If Briski knew that many her efforts wouldn't have lasting effects, I highly doubt she would've made the decision to just not do it. Her efforts and documentation were very inspiring, and this film is a great example of a documentarian completely immersing herself in the lives of her subjects.