The Revolutionary Optimists

The Revolutionary Optimists

Executive Producer:
Associate Producer:
Production Company:
  • Helianthus Media
  • ITVS

* Most external filmography links go to The Internet Movie Database.

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The Revolutionary Optimists (2013)

Opened: 03/29/2013 Limited

Cinema Village...03/29/2013 - 04/04/20137 days
Monica 4-Plex04/19/2013 - 04/25/20137 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home, Twitter, Facebook

Genre: Documentary

Rated: Unrated

How far would you go to change your world?


Children are saving lives in the slums of Kolkata. Amlan Ganguly doesn't rescue slum children; he empowers them to become change agents, battling poverty and transforming their neighborhoods with dramatic results. Filmed over the course of several years, The Revolutionary Optimists follows Amlan and three of the children he works with on an intimate journey through adolescence, as they fight for the better future he encourages them to imagine is deservedly theirs.

Kajal, a twelve-year-old girl, is one of 9 million Indian children who live and work inside a brick field. When Amlan creates the first school inside the brick field, Kajal has a chance to have an education, and find her voice. But when her mother falls ill, she and Amlan must balance her desire to learn and make change with her need to work in order to survive.

Priyanka is the sixteen-year-old leader of a dance troupe founded by Amlan to keep girls in school and dissuade them from early marriage. A serious dancer, she is also paid a tiny stipend by Amlan to teach dance to other children in her neighborhood. Now her parents are pressuring her to marry against her wishes, and she sees only one way out -- to marry her young boyfriend. But if she elopes, she will be controlled by her in-laws, and risks losing her position in the dance group, her employment, and her chance at an education.

Salim is an eleven-year-old boy who is fighting to make change in one of Kolkata's worst slums, but his family faces many hardships--including having to leave their home at 4:30 every morning to steal water from a neighboring slum, as there is no water in their colony. By mapping their un-mapped community and collecting data about the problems that they face, Salim and his fellow child activists hope to convince the government to give them a water tap. Can these child activists bring about desperately needed change in their own community?

Hot-headed, theatrical, but astonishingly dedicated and sincere, Amlan left a successful law career to try to make meaningful change where the law and other NGO's had failed. A dancer, choreographer, and costume designer, he brings creative expression to subjects that can otherwise be difficult for film audiences to approach. The Revolutionary Optimists will leverage this artistry, to reveal to the audience both the desperate, flawed world he is trying to change, and the vibrant, colorful world that his optimism generates.

As the centerpiece of a multi-platform advocacy campaign, The Revolutionary Optimists will leverage Ganguly's story to bring attention to the urgent need to solve the treatable health problems in the developing world, and how education and child empowerment are a crucial key to reaching that goal. Through our online tool, Map Your World, we hope to give these youth a powerful technological tool to advance their dreams of change for the neighborhood and inspire other kids around the world to make their worlds a better place.

About Amlan Ganguly

A qualified lawyer, Amlan began his career as an apprentice to the most reputed criminal lawyer in Calcutta. He was soon disillusioned with a legal system that provided little justice to the poor unable to pay fees and withstand the long drawn legal process.

In 1996, Amlan decided to make a complete switch and joined Lutheran World Service India. In 1999, Amlan registered Prayasam with a few friends with the intention of enabling children to participate in the decisions and factors that affect their lives. Under Amlan's leadership, Prayasam has emerged as a regional expert and trailblazer in child rights programming and workshops. Amlan is best known for his use of popular media to engage and educate children in an interactive, problem-posing approach. A self-taught choreographer and fashion designer, Amlan incorporates both contemporary and traditional art forms into Prayasam's alternative education models, which range from song, dance and comics to puppetry and storytelling. Amlan has made mentorship a hallmark at Prayasam, which has become a platform for introducing young people of diverse backgrounds to the social sector. Amlan is best known for his use of popular media to engage and educate children in an interactive, problem-posing approach.

Amlan's ideas about education have been recognized worldwide as both timely and important. In 2006, he became an Ashoka Fellow, part of an association of the world's leading social entrepreneurs. In July 2007, Amlan was invited by the Rockefeller Foundation to attend the Global Urban Summit on Innovations for an Urban World in Bellagio, Italy. In 2011 Amlan was awarded the Ford Fellowship by the Ford Motor Company Fund and the Picker Center for Executive Education at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.

Prayasam continues to introduce its peer education and child empowerment concepts to impoverished sectors of society. Notably, Prayasam is working with the West Bengal government to uplift brick kiln migrant worker communities -- the first such collaboration between government and NGO in India -- through its signature "Multiple Activity Centres." In addition to his work in West Bengal, Amlan facilitates leadership, soft skills and gender trainings across India, most recently with World Vision India in all over West Bengal and under the aegis of the Xavier Institute of Social Sciences in Bangalore, India.

About the Filmmakers

Nicole Newnham (Co-Director)

Nicole Newnham is a documentary filmmaker and writer, currently co-producing The Revolutionary Optimists with Maren Grainger-Monsen as a filmmaker-in-residence at the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics Program in Bioethics and Film. Nicole recently co-produced and directed the critically acclaimed The Rape of Europa, about the fate of Europe's art treasures during WWII. The Rape of Europa played theatrically in 80 cities across the country, has been a much-broadcast PBS primetime special, was nominated for two national Emmys and a WGA award, and shortlisted for the 2007 Documentary Oscar. Nicole was also nominated for a national Emmy Award for co-producing and directing the documentary Sentenced Home (2006), broadcast on the PBS series Independent Lens, which follows three Cambodian refugees in Seattle who are deported back to Cambodia after 9/11. With Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer Brian Lanker, she co-produced They Drew Fire (2000), a widely-acclaimed special for PBS about the combat artists of World War II, and wrote the companion book distributed by Harper Collins. She lives in Oakland with her husband Tom Malarkey and sons Finn and Blaine.

Maren Grainger-Monsen (Co-Director)

Maren Grainger-Monsen is a physician, filmmaker-in-residence and director of the Program in Bioethics in Film at the Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics, currently Co-Producing The Revolutionary Optimists with Nicole Newnham. Maren directed Hold Your Breath and Worlds Apart, a large-scale project on cross-cultural conflicts in medicine, which was broadcast on national public television and is currently being used in 63% of US medical schools. Maren also directed The Vanishing Line, her journey toward understanding the art and issues of dying, which was broadcast on the Emmy Award winning national PBS "Point of View" series. She also directed Where the Highway Ends: Rural Healthcare in Crisis, which won a regional Emmy Award, and Grave Words, which was awarded first place in the American Medical Association Film Festival. Maren studied film at the London International Film School, received her medical doctorate from the University of Washington and emergency medicine and palliative care training at Stanford University School of Medicine. She founded the Program in Bioethics and Film at Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics in 1998. Maren lives near Stanford with her husband, medical device entrepreneur and mandolin player Jeff Grainger, her two children Solenn and Tilson, and eight chickens.

Marco D'Ambrosio (Composer)

Marco d'Ambrosio is a film composer, conductor-arranger, music producer, multi-instrumentalist and sound designer. He has scored numerous award winning films, documentaries and theatre projects including the anime hit Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust, Haiku Tunnel, the Emmy winning Blink, The Rape of Europa, Connie Field's Johannesburg series as well as wrote music for John Shenk's The Island President.

Other scores of Marco's have been on projects released by 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures Classics, Lucasfilm Ltd., PDI/Dreamworks, Pixar, and Columbia Pictures. Marco also co-scored the documentary feature We Live In Public which was awarded the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival. He is a recipient of the prestigious film scoring fellowship from the Sundance Institute and was selected for the BMI Conducting Workshop in Hollywood. Most recently, Marco has been co-arranging and performing with Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead.

Andrew Gersh (Editor)

Andrew Gersh is a documentary film and video editor based in Berkeley, California. His work has appeared on PBS (including NOVA and FRONTLINE), ABC, MSNBC, National Geographic, Discovery, Turner Broadcasting, the BBC and Channel 4, UK and in film festivals worldwide. Recent work includes Ask Not (San Francisco International Film Festival, MoMA NY, national PBS broadcast on Emmy-award winning series Independent Lens), National Geographic Explorer: Inside Guantanamo (Emmy nomination for Best Documentary, 2010) and Ready, Set, Bag! (Los Angeles International Film Festival). He is a 2011 Sundance Documentary Edit and Story Lab Fellow.