Born Into Brothels Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman

The wave of public and critical sentiment has pushed this documentary to so many awards and accolades that I feel sheepish in saying that it's no big deal. Surely its topic — the destitute children of prostitutes in Calcutta's red light district — is "important" enough to waive aesthetic quibbling? Unfortunately, no, as the aesthetics in question are so haphazard that they teach you little about the people the filmmakers so desperately want to champion. Unsure about how to speak with film, they flail around for a focus and leave a lot of issues in the dark.

Co-director Zana Briski is a photographer who has lived and worked with the prostitutes of Calcutta, and the film documents her tireless efforts to save the children from a life of poverty and their mothers' trade; she gives them a voice by teaching them photography and parlays their efforts into an international fund-and-awareness raiser to get the children into school. But the film is so wrapped up in this that we don't go in-depth on either the children or the forces that keep them down.

We know what their lenses see and are given one sound bite each for their personalities, but we don't really get a sense of the person at peril; furthermore, we have to work out on our own the Kafka-esque maze that makes them social untouchables, from the schools that won't take them to the parents who want to keep them out when they do and the bureaucratic apathy that keeps the process agonisingly slow. Briski and co-director Ross Kauffman inadvertently do everything in their power to keep this obscure, and so the results are far less powerful than its supporters would say. (Th!nk)