Term Paper: Factory Girl Fatat El Masna

Pages: 12 (3789 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Film  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Briski and Kauffman take advantage of the grittiness of their subject matter and its setting to cover the dark elements of life in the red light district of Kolkata. The children are in control of the drama, but when the children become their own directors, they also reveal the world through their eyes. In their eyes, the brothels and back lanes of the red light district in Kolkata are looming large before them. Their future seems locked into this same small world. The film helps the children to expand their world, which is precisely the documentarians' point. Interspersing sweeping wide-angle shots of the red light district from overhead windows with extreme close-ups of facial features allows the filmmakers to show the issue of prostitution from multiple angles and points-of-view. It is a complex issue, demanding the use of creative and dynamic mis-en-scene that varies from shot to shot. One of the remarkable things that Briski does in Born into Brothels is to also interject sepia-toned stills into the film. For this reason, I certainly prefer the exceptional Born into Brothels overall.

To Be and to Have is a slower film generally. Many of the scenes are drawn-out, allowing the director to linger a long time in moments. Mis-en-scene is constructed differently because of it. As with Born into Brothels, there is a juxtaposition between wide angles and close-ups but rarely does Philibert use extreme close-ups of facial features. On the contrary, no one person is given intense scrutiny on camera. Occasionally, the viewer stays a long time with one boy, and with the teacher. Yet the emphasis is on atmosphere. More frequent wide-angle shots of the room and especially of the rural setting of the schoolhouse impart an expansive feel, which contrasts distinctly with the claustrophobia emanating from the red light district in Calcutta. To Be and To Have is about creating emotion, mood, and nostalgia. Born into Brothels is about compassion and social justice. There are multiple dynamics at play in each of these documentaries, and the filmmakers use their craft to the best of their ability to achieve their respective goals.

3. Changing perceptions on film

All of the films we encountered in class changed my perception of the value and purpose of films. I have always known that film can be a powerful medium for social change. Whether documentary or fiction, or based on a true story, films can inspire people to think differently about key issues and even encourage a viewer to take action that can change the world. This is true especially for films like Born into Brothels, which is as remarkable from a filmmaking standpoint as it is about the actual subject of children living in Calcutta's red light district. The filmmaker's dedication to her art is evident in her willingness to live and work in the brothels, rather than to come in for a few weeks or month with a film crew and treat the subject like an outsider. She creates an ethnography for her viewers, but one that is not pedantic and dry. Instead, the ethnography is artistic and aesthetically pleasing. It is artistic and educational at the same time, which reaches the pinnacle of filmmaking. Other films we watched, such as Twelve Years a Slave, are also fusions of art and education. Yet Twelve Years A Slave is about the past and does not necessarily inspire action. Born into Brothels is about the present -- about things happening right now all over the world.

Artistically, Born into Brothels was well-deserving of its Academy Award. There are several techniques the filmmaker uses that are unique and worthy of attention. Fusing photographic stills with live action camera work presents different angles and points-of-view. This also takes away the sense that we are supposed to watch the linear projection of time. Most of the world's most masterful films are those that play with time. The human mind does not work in as linear a fashion as we would like to think. A simple story is constructed with a beginning, a middle, and an end. A complex and meaningful story takes into account the fact that the human mind can be in the past, present, and future at the same time. Memories, emotions, and relationships transcend time. Film can show us how time is loose and elusive. Layering images like photographic stills with interviews and live action, the filmmakers in Born into Brothels shows the film student the power of the art.

Of course, it is the empowerment of her subjects that makes Briski's film so powerful and different from other documentaries. She alleviates some of the problems with filmmaker bias by giving her subjects the camera. The children tell their story through their eyes, and not just by responding to Briski's questions. Teaching the children how to use the camera, Briski asks them to be active participants in their own drama and narrative. The film becomes a partnership between Briski and Kauffman, on the one hand, and the children on the other. If the children were simply taking selfies for social media, they would not have the broader social vision that the filmmaker had. Without the children's participation, Born into Brothels would be just another documentary about India. Instead, the film is far beyond a typical documentary. It is an organic and realistic snapshot of life.

I appreciate also the fact that there is no moralistic judgment in Born into Brothels. There is no pity, either. The filmmakers are highly respectful of their subjects, which is why the children are empowered to take pictures and control their own discourse. The viewer has more respect for the women and mothers than prior to watching the film. Instead of being angry at the mothers, the viewer accepts reality for what it is, which is exactly what the children want, anyway. They are all happy children, too. Western viewers will be tempted to project their values onto the situation, and bemoan the plight of the children for having to work or for living the way they do; and yet that was not the filmmaker's intent. The intent of the film is to inspire the viewer to see the world differently, and to cease judging. Social justice and activism are implied, but they are not mandated by pity. When one of the girls muses on "what I could become" if she were able to go somewhere else and have an education, the viewer's heart is wide open. This is the power of film: to have direct insight into the mind and heart of another human being.

Born into Brothels shows that film can be a transformative medium. Filmmaking empowers the children in the movie, by showing them that they can take pictures and film just like the strange foreigner who wanted to live with them. They, too, can go to school, learn filmmaking or any other trade, and fulfill whatever creative dreams they have. If they choose, they can return to their families and do whatever they want. The children depicted in the film are strong and empowered. They do not feel sorry for themselves. The female children are in many ways more empowered and determined than the boys. This shows that when a female role model like the filmmaker appears in their lives, doors of perception open. The children ascertain the possibilities of life beyond the walls of the red light district. It becomes possible to dream. Unfortunately, many of the children will not be able to take advantage of the opportunities available to them, and those opportunities are also not necessarily available to all of the children living as they do. Film is powerful, but it is not a panacea. Knowing what I know about films, I would follow in the footsteps of Briski to create something of lasting value and worth that made a difference in the world.

4. Which film would I fund?

If I had to choose a film from the list to fund, I would pick Return to the Valley of the Jews by Habib Battah. This film depicts a little-known facet of Lebanese and Jewish society. One of the most significant features of the story is the complex nature of personal identity. Is identity linked to ethnicity or to nationalism? What happens when those two elements conflict? Also, many viewers may live under the false assumption that Arab society is monolithic and that Jewish society is likewise. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Jewish culture is diverse due to the diaspora, and Arab society is diverse as well with many points of convergence and divergence. It is also important to show that Jews in the diaspora prior to the creation of the state of Israel lived throughout the Middle East and Maghreb. There is a false belief that Jews and Arabs are long enemies. This is not true at all. In fact, the Arabs were once the best friends and allies of the Jews. Muslims… [END OF PREVIEW]

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