In The Shadow Of The Sun

In The Shadow Of The Sun


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Harry Freeland's measured and moving documentary explores life for some of Tanzania's 170,000 albinos. With their white skin marking them out from birth and superstition dogging their lives, the condition's associated disabilities and societal prejudice are just the tip of the iceberg. As albino activist Josephat Torner states at the start of the film: "One of the many things we have had to learn, is to live in danger." He adds: "We are hunted. We are killed. We are dismembered. But I am not afraid."

Torner may not be afraid but he certainly has every reason to be. Life has never been easy for albinos in Tanzania but recent years have seen witch doctors inciting violence against those born with the condition, telling people that the limb of an albino will bring them riches. While this may sound ridiculous to those of us who understand the science behind the disorder, a combination of lack of education and poverty means that the superstition has gathered a surprising amount of credence and led to the murder of many in the country.

Freeland follows Torner over six years as he wages a one-man crusade, with the help of the Tanzanian Albino Society, to try to raise social awareness about his condition and challenge the murderous myth. At the same time, we also watch young albino Vedastus Zangule, ostracised from his village because of his condition and waging an uphill struggle to get back into the education system with the support of his mother, who has been fighting her son's corner ever since she was told to kill him as soon as he was born. The stories of the youngster and the campaigner come together as Torner - and we - see this little boy bullied by society as a reflection of his younger self.

Freeland captures the beauty of Tanzania and uses the landscape as a way of illustrating the isolation and loneliness suffered by those with albinism. He follows Torner as he travels the country, showing the way in which people with the disorder have been ghettoised by their compatriots, often forced to live in walled communities 'for protection', although this in turn makes them sitting ducks for those with murder in mind. The horror of the situation is hammered home by a little girl whose arm was chopped off by thugs and the sight of concrete being poured onto a grave to prevent desecration. Freeland's film, however, is as much about celebrating the heroism of people like Torner as it is about raising awareness of the situation. Torner is a remarkable campaigner who deserves to be celebrated and who believes in leading from the front, putting himself in harm's way to help others find the bravery to stand alongside him.

House of Saddam composer Samuel Sim's music, though evocative, is somewhat over-used and is particularly distracting when placed over the dialogue. Occasionally, a little more context would be useful and, although there is parliamentary footage, the voices of politicians are curiously absent. It would have been good to see one or two being quizzed about the situation, particularly with regard to the educational plight of many albinos. An interlude with one of the hatemongering witch doctors also goes frustratingly easy on his views. But if something is lost in terms of the broader issue, Freeland gains much from keeping his focus tight in on Zangule and Torner, inviting us to take a long hard look at them until we become accustomed to their physical differences and start to focus, instead, on our shared humanity.

Reviewed on: 15 Mar 2013
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The story of two men with albinism in Tanzania pursuing their dreams in the face of virulent prejudice.

Director: Harry Freeland

Year: 2012

Runtime: 84 minutes

Country: UK, Tanzania


Human Rights 2013

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