The Revolutionary Optimists
(Rochester, New York) – Amlan Ganguly is a visionary. This lawyer-turned-community activist is not only changing a neighborhood, but also changing the way its youngest residents envision their lives. In this character-driven and highly cinematic documentary, acclaimed filmmakers Nicole Newnham (The Rape of Europa, Sentenced Home) and Maren Grainger-Monsen (Worlds Apart, The Vanishing Line) reveal Ganguly’s critical work in a Calcutta slum neighborhood. Filmed over the course of three and a half years, The Revolutionary Optimists, airing Monday, June 17, 2013 at 10 p.m. on WXXI-TV, follows Amlan and three of the children he works with through adolescence as they challenge the idea that marginalization is written into their destiny.
Using theater, dance, and data, the children have cut disease rates and turned garbage heaps into playing fields. Now, they have set their sights on goals that push at the limits of optimism: trying to bring clean water to a community that has long been denied it, and enabling the migrant children working in the brick fields on Calcutta’s outskirts to receive an education.
Twelve-year-old Kajal lives inside a brickfield gate and spends her days washing dishes and carrying bricks. She dreams of becoming a tailor. After Amlan sets up a makeshift school, Kajal suddenly has the chance to have an education. But when her mother falls ill, she must balance her desire to learn and with her need to survive.
Priyanka is the teenage leader of a dance group founded by Amlan to keep slum girls in school and dissuade them from early marriage. But she sees only one way out of her abusive family: to marry her young boyfriend. As she considers elopement, Amlan struggles to encourage her and the rest of the girls to stay in school and keep their eyes on her future.
Shika and Salim are twelve-year-old best friends who walk three kilometers at four o’clock each morning to take water from a neighboring slum. Hoping to convince the Colony Committee to give them a drinking water tap, they are chosen to speak in Delhi in front of Parliament on behalf of their group. Can they enable desperately needed change for their entire community? The film explores the cost of not having clean water on the neighborhood’s families as it traces the children’s incredible efforts to take action, and to dare to be optimistic.
Pictured: Child activists working with Amlan, marching through the streets of Calcutta, using megaphones to spread health messages.
Credit: Courtesy of Ranjan Palit
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