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Born into Brothels

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
Born into Brothels
from Film Forum, 02/10/05

Adventurous moviegoers who catch up with the film Born into Brothels, which is making its way through various U.S. cities, will probably be amazed, deeply troubled, and ultimately inspired by it.

The prostitutes active in the red light district of Sonagchi, Calcutta, are the neighbors of British filmmaker Zana Briski. Briski observes them as they make money off of drug-addicted, alcoholic men in order to support themselves, their prostitute mothers, and their children. The poverty, the bitterness of the women, and the irresponsibility of the damaged men make this corner of India one of the world's most hellish environments.

But Briski is there for a purpose. It's a risky, difficult, and honorable mission, and it reveals a corner of this lost culture that is often overlooked—the children. There, she discovers joy, wonder, and possibility.

As Briski teaches the children photography, their creativity and personality is unleashed. And, in some cases, the pictures may pave the way to a better future. This is all part of a program called Kids with Cameras.

I saw Born into Brothels in Seattle last Saturday, and I'm not surprised to learn that the Cannes Film Festival presented the film with the Audience Award last year. The faces, voices, and stories of the children have stayed alive in my mind since the screening.

It's easy to talk about Christ's call for service and love, but it is difficult to find such dedication and compassion modeled on the big screen. Briski sets a strong example for the rest of us, investing herself in the hard, sometimes tedious, work of love in an unfriendly neighborhood, offering grace with little hope of reward, ministering to students who may be lost causes indeed. As she finds her way through a labyrinth of obstacles—stubborn and contentious families, confounding legal processes, the naiveté of the children she loves—we come to desperately hope she can save some of these beautiful souls.

Born into Brothels may be a hard movie to find. (A schedule of screenings is available here.) And it may be, at times, difficult to watch. But these are two precious hours that offer a surprising measure of joy, discovery, and inspiration. It's one of those rare films that stands a chance of awakening a conscience, changing a life.

Some Christian press filmmakers have caught up with the film in recent weeks.

Steve Lansingh (Film Forum) says, "This is not primarily the story of a Westerner sweeping in and saving the day. This is the story of children, still unbeaten by the harsh conditions of their situation, finding a voice through the camera. As we see their photographs, we see their world through their eyes. We see sadness and squalor, yes, but we also see kites and animals, colors and smiles. These photographs are not intended to elicit our concern nor abate it; they have no agenda. The photos are simply a record of their world, glorious and broken—the only one they know."

Stef Loy (Looking Closer) says, "The pictures reveal a new way to view life, and the lens of a child transmits hope to the viewer—we want a better life for these little kids. In snap shots we see the world through their eyes, and it's a world that breaks our heart for their plight."

J. Robert Parks (Looking Closer) says, "Born into Brothels is certainly a compelling work and one likely to bring tears to your eyes. And its noble goals of raising awareness of the problem and money for a solution are worth celebrating." But he adds, "While the film is ostensibly a portrait of particular children in a particular place, it doesn't do much to explore the place itself."

Mainstream critics are celebrating the movie here.

from Film Forum, 03/24/05

Josh Hurst (Reveal) says, "This makes two films in recent memory that espouse true Christian service. Like Hotel Rwanda, Born into Brothels calls to our attention a group of people who are in dire need of love and compassion, exhorting us to follow Christ's example by reaching out to 'the least of these.'"


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