The inspiring documentary "The Revolutionary Optimists" profiles a memorable quartet of youngsters from India whose attempts to effect change in their impoverished neighborhoods — as well as within themselves — offer a vital snapshot of developing world struggles and possibilities.
Producer-directors Nicole Newnham and Maren Grainger-Monsen spent several years tracking the hardscrabble lives of these kids in Kolkata, including Shikha and Salim, a pair of self-possessed friends (both are 11 when the film begins) whose efforts to bring a potable water tap to their slum yield impressive results. Then there's 12-year-old Kajal, an industrious — and painfully low-paid — brickyard worker with hopes of becoming a tailor; and Priyanka, a teenage dancer caught between education and early marriage (a reported 47% of Indian girls are wed by age 18).
There's also a pivotal adult: Amlan Ganguly, an ex-lawyer who runs a remarkable outreach program called Prayasam that empowers the area's youth via schooling, dance classes and street theater. Ganguly proves an intriguing, unconventional agent of change who could have used even deeper examination.
Unfortunately, the film often feels somewhat random and disorganized, with Newnham and Grainger-Monsen never zeroing in on a cohesive narrative structure. Still, the movie's engaging subjects (including several parents) and valuable themes largely carry the day.