The first image is a naked light bulb, swarmed by bugs seeking warmth. A series of equally impressionistic images follows: a child’s face, women in a city street, a hallway crowded with men, a woman undressing. All introduce Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids, a look into the lives of children in Sonagachi, North Calcutta. “The men who enter our building are not so good,” says Kochi. “They are drunk. They come inside and shout and swear.” Kochi stands by a window looking out; behind her, laundry flaps and an orange sky offers beauty, but also, the imminent night, when the men enter.
Screening on 29 October at Stranger Than Fiction, where it will be followed by a Q&A with director Ross Kauffman, the Oscar-winning documentary is as vital and heartrending today as it was on its release almost a decade ago. While Kauffman and co-director Zana Briski had planned to focus on prostitutes, they were drawn to the children, and soon gave eight of them cameras so they might make art and also document their own lives. The kids make themselves seen and heard, and soon their work is noticed by art dealers as well as reporters. But still, they want only to go to school and survive their circumstances: they remain poised, knowing, and incredibly energetic as they are repeatedly forced to make difficult and very adult decisions.
See PopMatters’ review.