DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Born Into Brothels (RECOMMENDED)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Steve Tannehill, Sep 22, 2005.

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  1. Steve Tannehill

    Steve Tannehill Ambassador

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    XenForo Template  Born Into Brothels Studio: THINK Film / Lions Gate Home Entertainment Year: 2004 (2005 Release) Rated: R (Abusive Language) Aspect Ratio: 4x3 (Original Aspect Ratio) Audio: English/Bengali DD 5.1; English/Bengali DD 2.0; Commentary Captions/Subtitles: Subtitled in English; Optional Closed Captions Time: 1:23:07 Disc Format: SS/DL (DVD-9) Layer Switch: 1:12:15 Case Style: Keep Case Booklet: 12 pages "Without help, they're doomed." The Feature: When New York photographer Zana Briski went to Calcutta, she simply planned to document the lives of the women who worked in the red-light district. As she acclimated to life in a brothel, actually living amongst the prostitutes, she found that the children of the prostitutes were fascinated with her craft. Soon, "Zana Auntie" was involved with the children, teaching them how to take pictures. It is from this foundation that Born into Brothels was created. This documentary pulls no punches about the direness of the situation. The brothels are full of illegal activity (beyond the obvious). The young girls are steps away from joining their mothers "in the line." The boys are powerless to protect themselves or others. The fathers are largely absent or on the pipe. Some of the mothers are verbally abusive to their kids and others (to the point that I almost had to stop watching the movie--I have a low tolerance for this). Thankfully, the movie does not dwell on the upsetting for long. The children are largely resilient (but they have to be). Not only that, they thrive when someone takes an interest in their welfare. Zana Briski spent almost three years teaching the children, who ranged in age (initially) from ten to fourteen. They were eager to learn, so Briski provided them a constant flow of cameras and film, along with plenty of opportunities to take pictures. The photographs, which are featured throughout the film (and elsewhere) are incredible. They show life from a child's eyes inside the brothel--a perspective that Briski could not obtain. They show the life on the streets, but also from field trips to locations like the zoo and the beach. (The kids have a blast, too, which is refreshing after the drama of some of the situations inside the brothels.) Born into Brothels is not only a portrait of the children and their lives, but it also tells the story of Briski and her attempts to secure a future for the children. Exhibitions were set up to raise money. A calendar was created. An auction was held at Sotheby's. A companion book was released. (It's all non-profit, too.) Briski also went to extreme lengths to help the children by trying to get them into boarding schools--away from brothel Hell for good. One boy, regarded as the student with the best eye for photography, even had a chance to see a little bit of the world by attending a conference in Amsterdam--despite the difficulties of obtaining a passport. Briski was there all the way. Born into Brothels is compelling viewing. Before I saw it, I was disappointed that Tarnation was overlooked at Oscar time. Now I understand why this movie easily won the Oscar for Documentary Feature. It is not to be missed. The Feature: 5 / 5      Video: Once again, the nature of the source material dictates how the video quality is evaluated. The live-action was shot on video using camcorders. The 4x3 aspect ratio is identical to how it was shown in theaters. When you see some of the early shots, you might be concerned--scenes on the streets and inside the brothels at night were shot undercover in low-light conditions. It looks exactly as you would expect--grainy, with blooming lights, washed out blacks, and over-saturation. But once the story unfolds and we are given a chance to see things with stable camera moves and in better daytime lighting, the picture quality improves dramatically. The video is clearly shot from standard definition camcorders, but the pictures that are interspersed throughout the film appear to be on 35mm film stock. The movie was indeed shown theatrically in 35mm venues, with the video footage converted to film. I can't tell for sure if the transfer has gone back to the original camcorder source, but the end result looks great. It is colorful and free of artifacts. One note which sort of fits in the video section: for the Bengali dialogue, the DVD uses white, player-generated English subtitles that are not optional. The only way to see the English dialogue is through Closed Captions--and to see them on my Mitsubishi RPTV, I had to disable progressive scan on my Panasonic DVD player. This is a missed opportunity to include optional subtitle tracks for the other languages in Region 1 (not to mention English). Still, this is a minor quibble. And since I'm not expecting David Lean and Freddie Young as far as the cinematography is concerned, I am going to rank the video accordingly. Video: 4 / 5     Sound: The sound primarily a mix of recorded dialogue and music. You can clearly hear the sounds inside the brothels and of the busy city streets. There is some separation on the front-focused mix. When the music kicks in, the soundstage even pulls back a bit into the room. I detected a music-related single surround effect, but nothing else. There were no explosions, helicopters, or exploding helicopters. There are two tracks--one on Dolby Digital 5.1, the other in Dolby Digital 2.0. The 5.1 track was preferable. The soundtrack suits the film, and does not distract. And I loved the music. Sound: 4 / 5     Extras: Born into Brothels is packed with extras, including:
  2. A heartfelt Directors' Commentary with Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski
  3. The Theatrical Trailer (2:27)
  4. "Reconnecting" - An Update on the Kids 3 Years Later (9:10) - where we find out where each of the children are today. Thankfully, their situation has improved.
  5. A Special Video Commentary by the Kids Watching Selected Scenes of the Film (36:19) - Briski and Kauffman returned to Calcutta in January and brought the film. The children wanted to see it. In this segment, we see video of the children watching the film, side-by-side with the film itself. At times, this is harder to watch than the movie, especially when the kids start to get upset. But it also has its moments of riotous laughter. (Sometimes it is easy for an adult to forget what evokes hilarity in children.)
  6. Deleted Scenes (12:47) - a variety of sequences from a field trip to a water park, a visit to a photo lab, and an introduction to one of the children who is not otherwise discussed in the film.
  7. Production Stills - 19 of them, complete with the dates (which show that this project has been in work for five years now)
  8. About Kids with Cameras - a single page directing us to www.kids-with-cameras.org
  9. Academy Awards Acceptance Speech (2:48)
  10. Interview Segment with Charlie Rose (6:07) - from May of 2005, featuring Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski
  11. Trailer Gallery (Mondovino, Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine, Overnight) A nice 12-page booklet is included, with profiles of the children and samples of their work. Finally, I won't call this an extra, but I will call your attention to my one pet peeve regarding this disc. The DVD included two trailers on start-up (Murderball, The Aristrocats) that you could not skip; nor could you go to the menu. You had to either watch the trailers, or fast forward through them to get to the menu. That's a bad design. Extras: 5 / 5      In Conclusion: Born into Brothels is a difficult subject, but it is handled with sensitivity and hope. It gets a fine DVD presentation, with some excellent extras. About the only thing you could add to this DVD is the companion book (which is quite affordable). Overall Rating: 4.5 / 5      Recommended Release Date: September 20 2005
    Display calibrated by Steve Martin at http://www.lionav.com/
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  13. Andrew Chong

    Andrew Chong Supporting Actor

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    Nice review, Steve.

    Sounds like a worthwhile documentary; first heard about it on Ebert and Roeper where I recall they had positive things to say about it. I appreciate the efforts shown on documentary discs such as this one that revisit the documentary subjects (in this case, the 'Reconnecting' update and video commentary).
     
  14. Garrett Adams

    Garrett Adams Supporting Actor

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    I saw it when it ran on TV. It's quite moving and provides images and stories that stay with you.
     
  15. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    When I saw this in the theater I was stunned. This is a movie that will CHANGE you. Watch it expecting to be changed, and I doubt that this will raise false-hopes for even those hard-of-heart among you.

    A very powerful, engaging, dark and beautiful effort.

    I can't wait to add the DVD to my collection.



    Great review of a great film.

    I particularly like this line in the audio section:


    Hmm. that's troublesome. Do you mean that unless you're able to display the CC from a traditional NTSC video signal you can't read the English translation to the dialogue? Not good for someone like me running DVI into his projector...
     
  16. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Nice work, Steve. You're getting some really compelling films on disc.
     
  17. Yumbo

    Yumbo Cinematographer

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    Watched it last night, and it does inspire you.
    reminds me of my childhood.

    video is decent.
    sound is good.

    no EE!
    no distortion!
     
  18. Steve Tannehill

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    Perhaps I should rephrase...

    There is Bengali dialogue with English subtitles (like when the kids are talking). They are generated by the player and display properly. I think those will work regardless of player or display device.

    But if you want subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired (like when Zana Briski is talking), you have to revert to closed captions.

    I can only get to these when I disable progressive output--I don't know if this is a "feature" of my Mits and Panny, or if it is tied to the NTSC signal.

    The disc could have had a broader audience in region 1 had the subtitles for English, Spanish, and French been included. It shouldn't take up that much more room on the disc, either.

    - Steve
     
  19. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    Ahh...thanks for clarifying. Now I get it.

    Yes...Closed Captioning is part of the "NTSC" signal...it's burried in the time-sync-code stuff and if you had no overscan on a 4x3 NTSC TV you'd see the "noise" above the top of the image which is the CC info (often folks see it when they do the "16x9 squeeze on a 4x3 set because it lowers the top of the video signal down into the viewable area on the tube).

    I suppose that CC isn't part of the spec beyond 480I...do you get it when you run component 480I? (I had always assumed you needed composite or S-video for CC but maybe that's not the case)

    Agreed that full-feature subtitles in English, Spanish, and French would have been nice.
     

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