IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Ross Kauffman: Empowering kids with cameras

Ross Kauffman stands reunited with the protagonists of his 2005 Academy Award-winning film“Born Into Brothels,” in Calcutta, India, 2007.
Ross Kauffman stands reunited with the protagonists of his 2005 Academy Award-winning film“Born Into Brothels,” in Calcutta, India, 2007.Addie Morfoot
/ Source: NBC News

Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week, we speak with Ross Kauffman, 2005 Academy Award-winning filmmaker of “Born Into Brothels,” about his work with Kids with Cameras. The organization teaches photography to marginalized children in various communities throughout the world. Kids with Cameras raises money for the children's education and general well-being through print sales of the photographs taken by the kids.

Since this interview, Kids with Cameras successfully completed a $1.2 million endowment campaign. The funds enabled the organization to buy a five-acre piece of land to build the Hope House, a safe haven for girls from Calcutta's red light district.

Interviewed by Boram Lee

Question: Can you tell me about
and what it does?

Ross Kauffman: What we did during the film “Born Into Brothels” is we basically took the photos in the film that all the children took, and we sold them on the kids’ behalf and 100 percent of the profits went to the kids and their education. So Kids with Cameras acted a conduit for those funds for the children. We also started some other projects for children in other areas in the world like Egypt, Cairo in particular, Jerusalem, and Haiti. But primarily … the main function of Kids with Cameras is that we are filming, along with my executive producer Geralyn White Dreyfous, a home for children in Calcutta. 

Q: I know that “Born Into Brothels” was how the organization came about. For people who haven’t watched the film, could you tell me more about it?

RK: It’s interesting with this project. Everything kind of grew organically ahead of everything else. And it all started with a photographer named Zana Briski who was taking photos in the red light districts of Calcutta. She started teaching photography to the children of prostitutes. She really loved their photos and then we decided to do a film about these particular children.

The film is really about the incredible creativity of children, that indomitable spirit of childhood that can’t be crushed by just about anything. The kids really take incredible photos, and end up having a gallery show, and in the end some of them finally get into schools. So, that’s really what the film is about. And the organization Kids with Cameras is really born out of that film.  

Q: Also, on the Kids with Cameras website it talks about the “Hope House.” Could you tell me about it and what its mission is?

RK: The Hope House is the home that we (Kids with Cameras executive producer Geralyn White Dreyfous and I) are raising money to build in Calcutta. It’s really going to be a safe place for children in the red light district to live and to play, and they’re going to go to school. Their school and their education will be funded through the organization that we’re partnering with in Calcutta. So, it’s really a place where 252 children will be able to live and play, and work, and be safe. And we’re raising money to build the home right now.

Q: Where do workshops take place?

RK: One workshop has taken place in Cairo, along with the Zaballeen (people who make a living off collecting trash) where the garbage pickers and the children who live in the garbage dump  pick garbage all day. Another was in Haiti, with young women who are called restavek — they’re basically domestic servants. And then, the third was with Israeli Palestinian children in Jerusalem.

Q: OK. And how do the communities where you hold the workshops respond to them?

RK: As with everything, it’s a mixture, you know. Some people are happy about it. A lot of people are a little bit jealous if their children aren’t a part of it. But for the most part, people reacted positively to the work that we were doing.

Q: What was your most memorable experience with Kids with Cameras?

RK: Well, you know for me, Kids with Cameras and “Born Into Brothels” were sort of one in the same. They all came about the same time. You know, there were so many memorable moments, it’s hard to pick just one. We’re still in touch with the children from the film.

My most memorable moment? That’s a tough question. It’s funny because I ask people that when I’m interviewing them, but I can’t answer it now. Maybe I’ll think about it and figure out what it is.