Born into Brothels, The Film, Seeds Kids with Cameras, the Organization

Originally published at

The theatrical release of the film Born into Brothels (ThinkFilm) on December 8, 2004, presents Kids with Cameras with an opportunity for outreach and exposure most young nonprofit organizations may never enjoy. The organization, dedicated to the empowerment of children through the art of photography, fulfills its mission through a model that was initiated with children of prostitutes in Calcutta. Born into Brothels is about the fascinating creation of this model.

The Sundance-award winning documentary, co-directed by Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski, recounts Zana�s inspired journey to the red light district of Calcutta. She went to India to take pictures of the prostitutes and ended up teaching their children photography. The film captures Zana’s work with the kids over a number of years as they learn how to tell their own stories and reach their dreams for an education, the only way to escape the crime and poverty of the red light district.

Zana did not come to the project as a social worker or activist in the traditional sense, but her work led to change at the most intrinsic level. The film therefore serves as a powerful tool for inspiring education and action.

Kids with Cameras: A Film Gives Birth to a Nonprofit

Born into Brothels is a call to action. Most of us who have joined the Kids with Cameras cause as board, staff, volunteers and donors did so after one viewing of the remarkable film. We have committed ourselves to activism that uses media on many tiers. Kids with Cameras realizes its potential and responsibility to inspire transformation in children around the world growing up in zones of conflict or dire poverty. We also understand that we can raise awareness and effect change in our audiences using the creative media of photography and documentary filmmaking.

Kids with Cameras therefore develops and uses media projects to spark social change with our beneficiaries, our audience, the world, the children’s communities, our photographers and ourselves. We aim for empowerment on both sides of the camera.

Kids with Cameras delivers the services that fulfill our mission through a three-pronged approaches:

1. Photography Workshops
The photography workshops provided over a period of time serve as a point of entry into the children’s lives. We enable professional photographers to travel to troubled parts of the world to teach children how to create photographs, how to edit their photos and how to select the best images. We promote artistic excellence in the children and work with them one-on-one to maximize the long-term effects of our work. We are currently providing workshops in Israel and Haiti, and we are planning to launch another in Cairo. Workshops will be held in two to three locations per year.

2. Media Projects
Progressing from the photography workshops, we develop media projects that highlight the children’s accomplishments. These media projects include film, photography, websites, books and exhibits. Through these projects, we inspire our audiences to observe, learn and act.

3. Legacy Projects
Finally, we develop educational “legacy” projects to continue our impact on the communities we’ve touched. In Calcutta, that means building a school exclusively for the children of the brothels that promotes leadership skills and the arts, as well as general education. In other communities, we hope to assist schools and community centers that already exist.

This three-tiered model was derived directly from Zana’s work in Calcutta as documented in Born into Brothels. This year, Kids with Cameras has moved towards formalizing the model and building our services around it. Kids with Cameras was created from the work shown in Born into Brothels, and the film now exists within our model as a Kids with Cameras media project. This cycle of work stages a unique opportunity to present Kids with Cameras as an effective social change organization that uses arts, media and education.

Using the Film to Garner Support

This year documentaries have become the hottest film genre. In a year when nearly every other successful documentary has concerned the American political horizon or the Middle East, Born into Brothels stands out as global in scope �- a piece of humanist filmmaking at its finest and, this year, most unique. The film is distinct not only in subject matter, but also in its key role in the formation of a dynamic, effective social change organization.

As I write this article, the Board and staff at KWC are brainstorming on how to use our “right-place, right-time” opportunity to deliver our message. Our chance to publicize our work rests, to a large extent, in our ability to get people in theaters or to see the film when it broadcasts on HBO in 2005. The challenge comes in trying to create an outreach campaign for the organization that works in tandem with the film’s publicity campaign, while continually working on outreach efforts that will move us beyond the film.

Our publicity strategy involves using the film and related media projects to educate audiences about Kids with Cameras� model and our successes, and to demonstrate what the children in the film and kids like them throughout the world are capable of producing. We are working towards developing a media campaign that capitalizes on the film’s publicity — with one eye on opportunities to move beyond the film as an outreach tool as our organization grows larger.

To that end, we are currently using the documentary to garner media attention for the organization itself. The film provides a hook for publications to write about Kids with Cameras and our efforts. We are visiting film festivals around the country (where the film has won over 20 awards), mounting photo exhibits and providing literature at the festivals and screenings themselves. We have held a few private screenings at which the organization can present itself and raise funds. We will endeavor to have press articles that speak about the film as well as the organization.

As we move beyond the film’s theatrical release, we will use Born into Brothels to inspire future action in an educational release or for private screenings. For the moment, in the buildup to the theatrical release, we are using the distribution and publicity processes to encourage networking, outreach and fundraising.

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