Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Movie Week Review: Born into Brothels

I first watched
Born into Brothels about four years ago. Not surprising, I found myself just as moved by it now, as I did then. This film captures a poignant message -- that something can come from nothing. 


Zana Briski
Filmed within the Red Light District of Calcutta, India, this documentary uses photography and film to explore the lives of several sons and daughters of prostitutes in the city's brothels. The director (Zana Briski) started the project hoping to photograph the life of India's sex workers, but found it difficult to obtain permission to photograph them. Courageously, she took up residence in the Red Light District to become a part of their world, and in doing so became very involved and connected with the prostitutes' children. "Zana Auntie," as the children called her, was determined to use photography to provide the children with an opportunity for higher education, hope and a better life. What a precious gift!

Despite their circumstances, these children are engaged in the world around them. They are stimulated by it. It took a woman like Briski to do something revolutionary -- she empowered them to document the reality of their surroundings for themselves by putting a camera in their hands and teaching them how to use it. This in turn, unlocked their talent and imagination. 

As the kids excelled in their new found art, the filmmakers struggled to help them have a chance for a better life away from the miserable poverty that threatens to crush their dreams. Briski seeks to use the children's photographs to help secure them education at boarding schools by organizing an exhibition of their work in NYC, and a second exhibition at a bookstore in Calcutta to show the children the effect their work has on others. As the children receive local and worldwide attention, many of them seem to grow more hopeful that they have future prospects outside the brothel. One of the children, Avijit, separates himself from the rest through remarkable talent, and is selected to represent India as a child representative at a worldwide photography convention in Amsterdam.

By the end of the film, Briski has obtained spots for most of the children at boarding schools, hoping to keep them out of the brothels. However, not all children are allowed to leave the brothels by their guardians, and sadly, several leave the schools to return to the brothels by the film's end.

Born into Brothels both illustrates and exemplifies the power of art and artists to make a difference. It’s one of the most constructive and inspiring takes on the relationship of art and responsibility, of the artist and the world, that I’ve ever seen. Truly a great documentary about hope, perseverance, sadness, happiness and all the emotions that lie in between.

To watch this engaging documentary, click here.
To view photographs by these ‘kids with cameras’, click here.

Movie Week Review: War Photographer

I have been a witness, and these pictures are
my testimony. The events I have recorded should
not be forgotten and must not be repeated."
-James Nachtwey-

I found this documentary to be both inspiring and emotionally heart wrenching to watch. It quickly became obvious to me that James Nachtwey is a man of extraordinary principle, courage and sheer force of will. His photographs speak a thousand times louder than any verbal declaration!

An Oscar nominee for best documentary, "War Photographer" was directed by Swiss filmmaker Christian Frei, who followed James Nachtwey to Kosovo, Palestine and Indonesia. We see the photographer in combat zones and pockets of horrific poverty, approaching his subjects slowly, with a hand raised in peace. At one point he befriends a family that makes its home between train tracks in Jakarta; later he's running alongside rescue workers as they rush a wounded man through cross fire in the West Bank. Tear gas, shrapnel, the toxic fumes of a sulphur mine -- there's little that Nachtwey won't risk for the telling image.

Matching the closeness and immediacy of Nachtwey's work, Frei brings us into his process by mounting a tiny video camera to his still camera -- allowing us to see Nachtwey's perspective as he approaches each crisis, selecting and framing shots. We hear his breath, we see his right index finger as it adjusts the focus and clicks the shutter. This brings us closer to reality -- it brings the viewer right into any given situation, from a cholera epidemic to a deadly famine

"Every minute I was there, I wanted to flee. I did not want to see this.

Would I cut and run, or would I deal with the responsibility of being there with a camera?" 

To James, safety is not the most important thing. Over the years, Nachtwey has endured much physical pain, injury and disease -- yet he continues on with his work. He is a selfless, heroic but uncommonly modest man. Nachtwey says he "manages" his fear as a marathon runner manages pain, channeling emotion into his work that he sees as an antidote to war and his photographs as a graphic "negotiation for peace." He asks himself, “Is it possible to put an end to a form of human behavior which has existed throughout history by means of photography? The proportions of that notion seem ridiculously out of balance. Yet, that very idea motivates me.” 

Nachtwey is a single-minded and focused individual and he justifies his role by respecting others’ predicaments. He is emotionally connected to his work and to the people and circumstances he is photographing. James gets up close and personal and is at his best in extreme situations, when he is right in the middle of the action. He has a way of communicating with the people he photographs because he views them as equals and lets his images tell the story.  Seeking to relay images of truth and reality, he wants to attract attention and cause concern because awareness leads to action. He views his images as a form of communication, not as an art form, and in the process of giving these victims of war and poverty ‘a voice’ through his photographs, he in turn discovers himself. 

Here are a few compelling images that gripped my attention and literally shook the core of my soul...


I felt the most profound statement Nachtwey made in this film was, “The people I photograph are much more important than myself.” What a true servant to humanity! He reminds us that we as a species, are required to do something about the atrocities on the world;  help those who cannot help themselves. 
Overall, I thought this film was an act of spiritual faith - an eloquent, deeply felt meditation on the nature of compassion.

To view this riveting documentary, click here.

To visit James Nachtwey's website, click here.

Festival du Voyageur 2011

My visit to Voyageur Park...

Founded in 1969 by a group of Saint-Boniface entrepreneurs, this once three-day event, held in Winnipeg’s French Quarter, has evolved into a 10-day province-wide celebration of sights, sounds, snow and spirit. Dubbed “The World’s Largest Kitchen Party”, Festival du Voyageur celebrates the joie de vivre of the fur traders, who established the Red River Colony and the ever-growing French-Canadian community in Western Canada. The spirit and culture of the Voyageur is present in the vibrant community that comes together to celebrate, every February, their history through this event. In honor of the Voyageur spirit, the Festival du Voyageur’s emphasis is on the beauty of winter, with numerous historical, educational and entertaining activities – truly something for every age and every taste!

Snow Sulptures
Together a team of sculptor work to transform Whittier Park into a magical place called Voyageur Park. The sculptors manage, every year, to transform 450,000 ft3 of snow into a winter wonderland. From the moment you set foot in Voyageur Park, you are greeted by a gigantic sculpture reaching up to 50ft long and 18ft high. A little further, you’ll come across a fantasy land for the adventurous little ones who aren’t afraid to make the most out of a refreshing winter day!
In the month leading to Festival du Voyageur Winnipeg metamorphoses into a city-wide outdoor gallery. Sculptures can be seen all over town and are a friendly reminder that Festival du Voyageur is just around the corner. Every year, Festival’s sculptors create unique pieces varying in style and size, bringing life and joy to the then hibernating neighbourhoods. Every resident or visitor that passes by one of these sculpture witnesses a unique creation that will be forever lost when spring settles back in.

Storytelling inside a tipi

 First Nations EncampmentAt Voyageur Park, one can learn about the aboriginal communities whose contribution to the fur trade were essential to the success of the voyageurs at Fort Gibraltar and across the Northwest. Walk inside a tipi and explore the diverse and complex culture of the first inhabitants of the Red River. Stories, legends and folklore will surely fascinate you.

Whet your appetite with some delicious Voyageur fare!
Upon your visit to the Festival, be sure to partake in some of the delicious food and beverages available. Some of the 'must-try's are the Tortierre (meat pie served with gravy), Pea Soup, Bannock, Poutine and of course a visit to the Sugar Shack for some Maple Syrup on a stick!

To wash it all down, be sure to try the Fort Gibraltar Lager, a Canadian style Lager golden in colour, medium in body with a hint of caramel and finishes clean. Voyageur beer of choice at the Festival du Voyageur. Another option is Caribou, a fortified wine that was once consumed following a long Caribou hunt in Quebec. The beverage is a mixture of both red wine and home made whiskey.

Entertainment & Activities
There is something for everyone at the Festival!
Live music ranging from Folk & Fiddling to DJ and Dance! Get involved and participate in several different contests or visit the Voyageur Training Centre; Festival goers will be put to the test in a series of voyageur sports and mind
bending challenges. From tug-o-wars, to
contests, to massive scavenger hunts,
we want participants to feel the true
adventure of the voyageurs’ lifestyle.
Costumed animators will explain the
competitions, act as referee and between
activities they will roam Voyageur Park
seeking out folks who have the guts to play
a real voyageur game!

A nice way to end it all off, is a horse-drawn sleigh ride around Voyageur Park.