By Sienna Merope. This article is part of our coverage of the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival – click here for more essays, reviews and interviews.
“If societies think of me as sub-human today then I need to look for a solution to change society so it will accept me.” – Josephat Toner
In the Shadow of the Sun, HRAFF’s closing night film, is an at once confronting and inspiring documentary that shines a light on the stigma and persecution of albinos in Tanzania.
The film follows the journey of Josephat Toner, an albino activist, as he travels the country to confront the stigma and myths spread against those who, like him, suffer from albinism.
Albinos have long faced discrimination in Tanzania, as in many other parts of Africa and the world. In the last few years however, myths have begun to be spread by witch doctors that albino limbs bring good luck, leading to the murder of at least 72 people with albinism in Tanzania over the last five years. It is to the communities where these atrocities have happened that Josephat goes, with no protection, in the hope that education will end the killings.
Director Harry Freeland mixes footage of Josephat in action, interviews with other albinos, many of them children, and horrific footage of attacks, to create a story that is intimate and deeply affecting.
In the Shadow of the Sun is harrowing, but not unremittingly so. Much of the strength of the film comes from the warmth and tenacity of its subjects as they face the challenges of their daily lives – such as teenager Vedastus Zangule’s hobby of building model televisions during his days because it is not safe for him to attend school, or his mother’s unwavering commitment to protect her son and get him an education despite those who say she should have poisoned him at birth. Freeland’s portrayal is deeply empathetic and it is this that makes the film poignant as well as eye-opening. Above it all stands Josephat, who confronts daily danger with a determination, charisma and courage that is truly inspiring.
In the Shadow of the Sun is not without its faults. There are moments when the story feels laboured and the film could have done far more to focus attention on the question of who is really driving the trade in albino limbs – something that both Josephat and Freeland say remains a central and unanswered issue.
Overall though, Freeland has created a deeply moving story about the human impacts of discrimination and an individual’s battle against it. As a means of raising awareness In the Shadow of the Sun is also a resounding success. The documentary has screened at 48 festivals in 28 countries and will be launched in Tanzania by President Jakaya Kikwete later this year.
In the aftermath of the film, the charity Standing Voice http://standingvoice.org/ has been established to improve the education of albino children and establish educational and integrationist projects in Tanzania.
Listen to an interview with Harry Freeland and Josephat Toner by Right Now Radio’s Evelyn Tadros.