By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Mar 10, 2005 at 5:16 AM

{image1}It seems like more than ever, documentary films are bringing the human experience to commercial theaters. The latest to hit Milwaukee screens is the Oscar-nominated "Born into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids."

The 85-minute film is set in the bustling and life-shattering red light district in the Indian city of Calcutta. Extreme poverty and unemployment mean that women are forced to sell themselves to support their families. While the men are portrayed as absent except when violent and demanding toward their wives and children, the women are shouldering the brunt of the work and the pain.

That, of course, filters down to the children, who must also work hard, even while most of the girls know, by seeing their mothers, what awaits them in a few short years.

For a small group of kids, New York photographer Zana Briski will make a difference. She has started a program to get cameras into the hands of the children of the red light district so we can see their world through their eyes.

She helps set up exhibitions of their work in New York and in India as a means for raising funds for the children to go to boarding schools. Removing them from the red light district and putting them into good schools is their only hope for salvation.

But to accomplish this, Zana Auntie, as some of the kids call her, must convince the children, their parents and the boarding schools -- only one will accept the children of prostitutes. Then she must overcome the long lines and difficult rules to secure all of the proper paperwork.

One of the children is selected to take a trip to Amsterdam to join other intelligent, talented kids from across the world, and this helps convince him that he ought to go to school.

But, Briski and her kids face almost incalculable odds. Will they be able to make it out of the red light district?

As powerful a statement as this film is on the resilience and potential of young people everywhere, it is also a testament to the ways life can gnaw away at that potential until there is no future.

And Briski's work is incredibly inspiring. Her passion for the children and their salvation drives her to devote considerable time, effort and soul to them. It's a valuable lesson for all.

Learn more about the program and the film at

"Born into Brothels" opens Friday, March 11 at Landmark's Oriental Theatre.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.