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Documentary examines brutal existence of albinos in Tanzania

The audience at IDFA rated it their second favourite out of a possible 300 films – and with just cause. Harry Freeland’s new documentary In The Shadow of the Sun is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking which doesn’t just tells us but also truly lets us feel the heartbreaking fear and pain that albinos in Tanzania experience on a daily basis.

Freeland takes us to the heart of Lake Victoria, three hours away from mainland Tanzania. Ukerewe Island is home to a large community of people who live with albinism. Aside from having to struggle with the fact that they stand out from their fellow countrymen in the visual sense of the word, their absence of pigmentation in the skin also leaves them near blind and very susceptible to skin cancer.

As if this isn’t enough to deal with for any child who struggles to find its place in the world, albinos in Tanzania also have to live with the fear of being killed and slaughtered, their body-parts sold for the purpose of medicine and witchcraft. Many are killed directly at birth, when friends and family talk to the parents until they surrender and give in to prejudices and superstitious beliefs such as the child being a demon, a ghost and that their bodies possess medicinal properties.

Luckily the country is slowly adressing the issue and on the forefront of this change is the island’s 62-strong albino community which has formed a society to share their experiences and to support each other.

Shot over the course of four years, before, during and after an outbreak of brutal ritual killings that sweep across the country, In The Shadow Of The Sun tells the intimate and compelling story of two very different members of the albino community. When we start our journey we follow Josephat, a strong-willed advocate for people with albinism. He is a brave man, fighting to tell his people that they are one and the same, that there is no difference and that he, as well as other albinos, carry or wish no evil.

It is also Josephat who leads us to Vedastus. It is extremely painful to hear his story and stand back. Vedastus is a quiet, warm-hearted teenage boy, who looks after his terminally ill mother while continuing to try to be accepted in his community. He tells us of his daily struggles not to get beaten up, bullied or killed and hearing his tales, told as if he is describing a daily walk to the park, is as if a knife cuts straight through your heart. He can no longer go to school and is told another school, a school especially set up for albino children – surrounded by a high gate and with around-the-clock police protection – is too full.

By following the two men we get to see a no-frills affair of what they and others like them have to overcome and how much stronger than anybody else they have to become to survive in their society. This sadly also includes the infants at the special schools who are already learning out of necessity to trust no-one, sometimes not even their own parents. “I think it was my father who send the crowd to our house,” says a little girl who’s right arm has been chopped off in an attempt to kill her and make money selling her body-parts.

A total of 62 people have now been murdered because of their skin and bones, however, no convictions have been made despite nearly 300 arrests. Campaigners like Josephat and organisations such as the one in Ukerewe Island have managed to make a small difference though. Finally, also partially through increased international pressure, the Tanzanian government has now sentenced four men to death and the trials of the accused continue throughout the country. The government has acknowledged the seriousness of the issue and currently seems to be fully supporting the initiatives to put an end to these practices and inform their nation that this has to stop. Perhaps there is still hope for a better life for the future generation.

For more information please check out the film’s Facebook page by clicking here.

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