Documentary Reviews

Just in case I might get into any trouble with… I dont know what… I must say that these reviews are done for my Documentary Class, and they are to be posted in the discussion board. Hope I’m not breaking any rules by posting them here 😛 hahaha.. Its really long though, hope you’ll enjoy 🙂
Born Into Brothels

This film inspires me. Sounds weird, but it has shown me a different side of photography. Photography is not all about taking beautiful photos, but about taking pictures that make us feel. Capturing moments that tell a story. Oddly enough, it has also inspired me to be like Zana, in a way, to go to a different country to help the children in need. Maybe because every child deserves a wonderful childhood.

Amazingly colourful, this film brings out the energetic life of the children in the brothel. The bright colours of red, blue, green, yellow, cyan, orange, etc., showed me that the children have all the rights in the world to enjoy their childhood. Them learning photography should have been nothing but fun. However, I felt that certain odd framing and compositions justified that living in the brothels are nothing near fun. In fact, there was a certain disturbing tone, created visually, on little children living in the red light district. I’m glad that the film was not shot too beautifully, that it glorified the fact that the children are children of prostitutes, and that they will probably have to spend all their lives there. Thankfully, there was a balance of both- beauty, that the children are beautiful and their energy and passion are amazing, and ugly, that the children do not deserves to be living somewhere like that. This, I say, is what clever filmmaking is.

I truly admire Briski and Kauffman’s courage and passion on going all out to help the children. It is probably nothing but love that drove them to doing what they did. This humble film connects us so deeply with the children that it hurt me to see the children sad, like when Avijit’s mother passed away, and it brought a smile to my face when the children are happy, like when they went to the beach to play.

This film is nonetheless touching. ‘Aunty Zana’s’ love for the children and vice versa was strongly portrayed in the film. When Briski felt that the children might not be able to go to school, she sincerely went all out to hunt for schools for them. When the children’s photographs were exhibited in India, they had nothing but praises for their ‘Aunty Zana’ and how much they loved her. I clearly remember the scene when the children saw computers in the school; they said that they could now use the computers to email Briski when she is back in the US. It is such love for her from the kids that touched me too.

The film evoked so much of my emotions that I felt as though I knew the children personally, and I hope for all the best for them when the film ended.

One scene that was most memorable to me was when the children went to the beach to play. That was probably the first time they saw the ocean. Contrasting the cramped environment they live in, the children had all the space they wanted in the open sea. And that stroked me that this was the kind of life the children should be having, not living in fear and uncertainty. The kids ran around; they somersault; they splashed water on each other; they laughed really loudly; and they took photographs. I especially loved it when Avijit took a pail filled with water, poured it into the sea, and took a photo of that with his friends playing at the background. That was perhaps the photo I loved the most.

Though the film has ended, the children’s life still continues. They should have been at their teens now. I wonder how are they. I hope they are happy wherever they are, though I know that’s not going to be the case for all.

Brat Camp China

I guess the debate that is going to come out from watching the film is whether we agree with the camp’s way of teaching the children to behave. Do children now a day still learn it the hard way? Or do they need soft coaxing before they really grow. Is the saying ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ true? Here are some of my opinions, and my thoughts of the pros and cons of the camp.

While I do not completely agree with the way the camp deal with the kids so strictly, I have to say that to a small extent, some children who got out of the camps do learn. Take the boy who likes to cry for example. He learnt it the hard way- he became a better boy. However, there were other teenagers who never learnt. The rebellious boy eventually ran away from the camp, never to be contacted again. The irritating spoilt girl went back to her normal whiny self after getting out of the camp.

The camp does help families in desperate situations. Having the one child policy in China, all parents would want the best for their children. Globalization led to the parents having to work harder, thus having lesser time for the kids. And some kids simply do not listen to their parents. So, desperate times calls for desperate measures, I guess. Brat Camp.

The children enrolled to the camp are taught discipline. Walking hundreds of kilometers, they learn the need to endure, the need to persevere, and the need to accept pain. They probably learn stuff like life is a journey and that we all got to walk it rightly and persevere on. The children also learn from their religion. Memorizing their scriptures, they learn life lessons and how to be a better person on earth. They also learn about their cultural past and their Gods. Doing their own laundry and making their beds also teach the children family responsibility. The children also perhaps learn to appreciate their parents/ maids more. The kids also write their diaries at night. They learn to reflect on their day and learn from mistakes they made. They learn to change their wrongs.

The camp, thus, in a way teaches the children to be better person. In almost all aspects of life, the kids do learn. They are taught about almost everything it takes to be a better child. All, but love.

Perhaps something that makes the camp frowned upon is the lack of love the children in the camp would have. Being thousands of miles from their families and friends, there is bound to be the feeling of abandonment. Also, their ‘teachers’ in the camp isn’t giving them a lot of love either. They are scolded for doing wrong, sometimes even beaten. The lack of love is something human beings should not go through.

This might, on the other hand, make the children rebel even more. Perhaps this is the case for the boy who ran away from the camp, and away from his parents forever. The feeling that no one really cares for them might eventually led the kids think that their parents do not love them, and hate their parents even more.

Also, not receiving love is not good for any individual, whether they are ‘good’ kids or not. Because no one should be deprived of attention and love.

In addition, some children cannot learn things the tough way. Maybe more need encouragement, patience, and understanding when it comes to learning. They need values to be sounded into them, not forced into their brains. And that’s why; going against what the children need might make them rebel even more, or even form the nonchalant attitude in life.

The question of human rights also comes into place. Are the camps handling the kids rightly? Is being forced to walk hundreds of kilometers a day, and treated with little respect right for the kids? What does being ‘deceived’ into the camp make the kids feel any better than their lives? Isn’t it the parents’ responsibility to discipline their child, and not some strangers from a camp whom the kids feel no connections to? I guess these questions will remain unanswered as long as the camp still exist.

Nanook of the North

Made in 1922, it is considered the first documentary ever made. I kind of felt privilege that I could actually see it, considering the fact that it was shot in extreme conditions and preserved for decades.

This documentary, being the first, I must emphasize again, is really impressive. Following the life of Nanook and his family for a year, we learn how the Eskimos trade, how they build their igloo, how they hunt for food, and their very basic ways of living. I especially liked the scene when Nanook’s entire family and their pet dogs squeezed into the kayak. It was pretty funny when they each got out of the boat, one by one, until the last member eventually got out from the inside of the boat.

Having read more about the documentary, I found out that there were many speculations and beliefs that the film was in fact staged. It was said that Nanook hunt with a gun, but to make the film appeal more to audiences and make it more ‘authentic’, the filmmakers asked Nanook to hunt with a spear instead. Also, it was said that Nanook’s wife in the film isn’t really his wife. And people say that many of the incidents were staged. Even at the beginning of the film, there was an inter title to say that Nanook died while hunting after the film was made was apparently fake. It was said that he died due to some other issues.

Upon knowing these claims did make me feel a little disappointed at first. But when I thought about it, I realized that the staged scenes did not make the documentary any less real. Those incidents could have happened in real life, just that it was not captured at the particular point of time. Staging the scenes again gave audiences a better understanding of the Eskimos life. It did not make the film less believable or real. Nanook might have hunted with the gun, but seeing the way he handled the spear show me that he did know how to use it. It was just a decision on his part to change his way of living, Nanook still knew his traditions.

Changing parts of the film a little here and there, to me, was ok. Yes, it did make the film looked a little ‘fake’ when we knew the truth, but it still made us understand the life of an Eskimo more, which is probably the aim of the film. It made the film more enjoyable too. Maybe we have to know that filming in the cold with ‘ancient’ camera and equipments is not the easiest thing to do. Such images and incidents could not have been captured with the technology at that time if not for the filmmakers believe in their work and their perseverance. Also, Nanook’s entire life was not altered. They were simply changed a little and certain scenes staged. The lifestyle of an Eskimo was kept true and honest. That, to me, was the most important factor.

So, I must say I loved the film. It, being a black and white silent film may seem ‘difficult’ to watch for some. But I enjoyed the film from beginning to end, and even would have liked it to be longer. I applaud the filmmakers of Nanook of the North.


This film was stunningly beautiful. Images of live in the ocean made life on earth seemed dull. Audiences are wowed with images that we never get to see everyday, and probably our lifetime. The bright colours of life in the deep blue gave the ocean another form of life altogether. This is perhaps one of the most beautifully shot underwater film I’ve seen so far.

Stewart and his team are on a mission to save endangered sharks from fishermen in the Costa Rica region. However, due to government politics, long line poaching was ignored, leading to the deaths of many sharks. Because of the high demand for sharks fin, thousands of sharks were killed to keep the consumers satisfied. The government, as well the gang leaders of the shark fin industry is preventing Stewart and his team from saving the sharks, innocent creatures living their once peaceful life in the ocean.

A scene that made an impact on me was when Stewart was in the hospital. This is perhaps one of the most boring looking scenes. No colourful ocean bed, no life in the sea, no conflict with the government. But it was the scene that made me connect with Stewart most. Who have never felt being unable to do something he/she desperately wants to? I was able, to a great extent; understand how Stewart felt at that point of time. And as audience, I wanted him to get well and save the diminishing sharks.

I also loved the scenes when Stewart is in the oceans, playing with the sharks and other sea creatures like one would with farm animals. The sharks swam really close up and started nudging him, as if they were friends. Well, they probably are.

Though beautiful, this film has a disturbing undertone- the murdering of sharks. As mentioned in the film, the sharks are not only animals that are precious to the earth, they form the eco system in the ocean, and their diet of planktons ultimately allows for a balance of oxygen levels in the earth, important for our survival. They aid us in preventing global warming, yet we humans are killing them off by the hundreds to satisfy out selfish wants.

It changed my perspective of the sharks. I’ve heard two sides of the stories. One, that sharks are enemies, and they kill when they can. Two, (a little less heard of), is that sharks only harm when they are threatened. But I’ve only seen sharks attacking humans (in documentaries and feature films) that I tend to side the belief that sharks harm much more than they do in reality. However, after watching the film, I now know that sharks are more of friends than foes. Humans have much more to fear than these gentle creatures. I guess seeing is believing, and I’m glad this film was made.

If I have a wish for the filmmakers, it is that they will continue to persevere on and continue make a difference to the sharks. I have great respect for them and admire them greatly. With the help of people from around the world, the mission can be made possible.

P.S. let’s hope that it will be a dream come true for them to let the film reach China and be in Chinese for the people there.

War Dance

This is a film that probably made everyone cry when watching it. It is moving, yet inspirational at the same time.

Having lost their parents because of the rebel in their own country, the children are forced to live in a camp to survive. In the camp, they practice their traditional music and dance and even formed a love and passion for the arts. Eventually, these kids went to a state in their country to perform for an annual competition. Some even won certain awards, bringing pride to their tribe.

This film is amazingly rich in colours. Shot in the dryer areas of the world, the costumes and decorations in the settings brought up rich colours to the film. It gave so much hope for the kids and their future. Hope that the war will end and that peaceful lives will come again. Also, I especially loved the framings used when the children were dancing/ singing/ playing with their instrument. It gave so much vibe to the movie and every shot seem picture perfect. The compositions were always new and refreshing.

Also, this film is like an MV in itself. Each time the children broke into a dance or played the music, the filmmakers allowed such scenes to extend and play itself out. Audiences are made to enjoy the music as it is, and not take music as only part of the film, but the film itself. It seems as if the music made the film what it eventually is like. We always find ourselves entering the world of their music, and enjoy the music just as the kids do.

I also loved the message brought across in the film. Music is probably all the children have left, and it is the passageway that will lead them to a brighter tomorrow. It is the element that keeps them living and gives them hope. It is about how, even when we have lost all the world to us, we can still find hope in the little things we love. It is about how life moves on when all seems hopeless, because with hard work, we will be rewarded with a future. It is also about how giving up isn’t an option, because whatever life gives us, we’ve got to make the best out of it.

The children had almost nothing left. Their homes are gone, most of them have lost their parents and siblings, and freedom is out of reach. But with their passion for music, and with the teachers’ trust in them, the kids glorified their lives and their tribal group’s lives in performing bravely in the competition.

The film has also made me cherish the peace in Singapore. We never learn to appreciate until we see people worse off than us. Now that I know, I treasure every moment of peace we have, and I hope that the kids back there will find hope in the music they play, and that the future is not gone because of the rebels. Music is going to bring them a long way through.


P.S. You, is relative.

“I give up, I’d just leave on the train…”


2 thoughts on “Documentary Reviews

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s