The gulf between poverty and affluence is keenly plumbed during the magnificent Oscar-winning documentary Born Into Brothels, recently released on DVD. As photographs by a select group of children from Calcutta are displayed for the wine-and-cheese crowd in Manhattan, we watch as they react; taken as works of art, the photos are impressive, and full of earthy grace, but do they stir anything in the hearts of the socialite crowd? It's hard to tell if they register, but in a great movie full of thought- inspiring passages, it is one of the best moments—downtown art fans rubbing elbows while the artists, 8,000 miles away, languish in the most unimaginable poverty on Earth.
What began as a 1995 journey of the self for photographer Zana Briski turned into something else. Her obsession with depicting the prostitutes in Calcutta eventually grew into a desire to do something for their kids. Later, she raised money to start a photography class for them. It's a drop in the bucket in a situation this deep with grief and turmoil, but the ripples are powerful: These children wake up to their own potential and begin to see themselves, for the first time, beyond the confines of the poverty they were born into.
Briski returned to Calcutta in 2001 with co-director Ross Kaufman to revisit some of her old pupils. It's maddening to watch as "Zana Auntie"—as she's called by the eight or so kids under her tutelage—fights the insurmountable tide of postcolonial chaos that is modern India. Trying to get the kids out of the brothels and into private boarding schools involves a struggle not only with a bureaucracy stranded in the 1950s, but also with the children themselves. Even if given the opportunity to escape, will they? What will happen to them ultimately, we don't yet know, though this excellent new DVD has a follow-up with the kids three years later, along with the filmmakers' Oscar acceptance speeches and a Charlie Rose interview. For further reading, Briski has also edited a companion photo volume of the children's art (Umbrage, $35).
CLOSER TO HOME, there's a seven-disc collection of silent comedies from Harold Lloyd, Oklahoma and The Sound of Music have been spiffed for rerelease, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail is packaged with The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and And Now for Something Completely Different. With the King Kong remake on its way, original director Merian C. Cooper's silent docu-fictions Chang and Grass are new to DVD. November also greets Madagascar, Stealth, The Skeleton Key, Kings and Queen, and The Edukators.