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Finding truth in the documentary - an analysis of the form and ethics of born into brothels

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  1. Introduction
  2. Exploration of the lives of eight Indian children
  3. Formal interviews with the children
  4. The role of community resources
  5. The red-light district
  6. The humanitarian effort by Briski
  7. Criticisms of the film
  8. Conclusion
  9. Bibliography

Born into Brothels explores the lives of several children raised in India's notorious red-light district. Directed by photojournalist Zana Briski, the film chronicles the filmmaker's attempts to enroll the children into various boarding schools, all the while depicting their efforts at photography, as they are turned loose in their homes with point-and-shoot 35mm cameras. This paper will examine a number of critiques of the film centering on its individualistic and Westernized structure, in narrative, ideological, and stylistic terms. The representations of people (children, parents, filmmaker), as well as institutions and activities (school, prostitution, art) depicted in the film, are important to these critiques. Further, this paper will contextualize that the role of art in the film, as well as Briski's actions outside the film that undermine many of these critiques.

The film begins as an exploration of the lives of eight Indian children living in the brothels of Sonagachi and transforms into a more narrative account of the role of the filmmaker in the children's lives. According to Briski, the film came about while she was living among the sex workers of the district and attempting to photograph their lives.

[...] Judgments are made about the activities, people, and institutions presented throughout the film, but these opinions should be viewed as purely contextual and necessary for the narrative purposes of the film. The debates over representation of reality in documentary certainly extend beyond the scope of this paper, but ultimately, I believe, only good can come from the artistic license of filmmakers working within the documentary form. Bibliography Banerjee, Partha. ?Documentary "Born Into Brothels" and the Oscars: an insider's point of view.? Mukto-Mona Bruzzi, Stella. New Documentary: A Critical [...]


[...] This distance prevents the viewer from imagining Briski as fully integrated into the lives of these children, and instead we imagine her as more of an anthropologist engrossed in her work, commenting on it from the outside. All of this is not to say that Briski is completely removed from her subjects or misleading to her audience, but rather to complicate and question the notion of what constitutes the ethical standard by which documentarians treat their subjects and subject matter. [...]

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