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Born Into Brothels Film Analysis

In: Film and Music

Submitted By unseenw
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Born into Brothels is a documentary focusing on the lives of a group of children who were born and live in the “red light” district of India, specifically the children of prostitutes. The documentary was well received by critics and won multiple awards, including an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. With such positive reception, it is important to examine what made this documentary so successful; its success can be broken down into two main components, method of delivery and subject matter. The film is shot almost entirely by a single camera, with no additional cameramen or microphone equipment. Much of the footage from the early part of the film was not intended to be included in the documentary, but was a side note of the Zana Briski’s original intent filming her experience in the red light district of India. However, as she got to know the children she began focusing the filming more on them and their situation. This leads the camera work related to the children in the early part of the file to be very rough, as Briski is often holding the camera while trying to interact with the children. When Briski is not holding the camera it is in a stationary position filming her, so it cannot capture the children’s part of the scene easily, only their voices. This is one of the film’s strengths, as it gives a first person feel to the storytelling, placing the viewer with the children and in the city just as Briski experienced it rather than just observing it in travel log fashion. This adds yet another layer of humanity to the films events. Not only is the viewer seeing an inspiring tale of children, the viewer actually feels connected to the story, almost as an active part of it, because the viewer’s engagement grows with Briski’s engagement. This means the viewer is more active in comparison to other documentaries where most interaction with the camera is through documentary interviews. The film focuses on children between the ages of 8 and 14. They are largely innocent and very interested in Briski’s camera, to the extent that she starts a class teaching them photography. Although the children’s situation is unfortunate with poor living conditions, and few children having any education (spending their days working as housekeepers and cooks within the brothel), they still manage to maintain their childhood innocence. Given that this is a documentary and not a fictionalized story, the children’s attitude towards their situation is all the more inspiring. When a scene transitions from a mother beating and swearing at her child to that same child laughing with other children while taking photographs, it undeniably plays on human emotions. It should be noted that this is as much a product of editing as it is of the children themselves. The two shots could well have been taken weeks apart, but that doesn’t stop it from creating brilliant visual poetry and having an emotional impact. As the film progresses, the children become more skilled with a camera, and many of their pictures highlight the children’s personality. Every time a child’s documentary segment comes to end, a short montage of a few of his or her photographs, which often highlight the child’s personality, caps the segment. The shy girl’s photos are wide shots of distant subjects, while the bold young male has photos of a crowded marketplace with multiple subjects occupying both middle and foreground. After the child’s time on camera, his or her photographs allow for a much deeper understanding of the photographer. Had the photos been shown in isolation, they would not have the same impact, but with a basic understanding of the children’s situation and general knowledge of their personality, the photos have more power and emotional significance. Born into Brothels succeeds largely due to its ability to convey strong emotions and its touching subject matter. The film ends by revealing that many of the children did not make it out of the slums to get an education and many will likely be drawn into prostitution, and this is when the true emotional impact of the film is felt. By the end of the film the viewer has become very familiar with the children’s personality as well as their aspirations. Given that the film has a running time of less than an hour and a half, this wealth of knowledge is largely due to the density of the content and its emotional presentation. The strong reaction the viewer has to the end of the film shows how successful the film is in drawing the viewer in and making him or her understand the world Briski captured.

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