Albinism In Tanzania Is The Focus Of 3 New Films Traveling The Festival Circuit
Photo Credit: S & A

Albinism In Tanzania Is The Focus Of 3 New Films Traveling The Festival Circuit


In some parts of the world, people with albinism often face social and cultural challenges (even threats to their lives), as the condition is a source of ridicule, discrimination, or even fear and violence. Cultures around the world have developed beliefs regarding people with albinism. 

In Tanzania, for example, which all 3 films below are set in, there has been what reports are calling an unprecedented rise in witchcraft-related killings of albino people in recent years, because their body parts are used in potions sold by witch-doctors. For example, news of killings of albino youth, and the severing of their body parts to sell to witch-doctors, aren’t so uncommon.

The president of the country (Jakaya Kikwete) has publicly and repeatedly condemned witch-doctors, their helpers and middlemen, and the clients, which include members of the police force, for these kinds of murders. He even ordered a crackdown on witch-doctors, while the Prime Minister declared war on albino hunters, revoking the licenses of all the country’s witch-doctors who use the body parts. And also the police have been ordered to generate lists of albinos in order to provide special protection for them.

2 documentaries that made their debuts on the film festival circuit last year, directly tackle this issue.

The first one, from director Camilla Magid, is titled White Black Boy, which looks at Shida, a boy with albinism in Tanzania, during his first year enrolled in a boarding school, where he can be watched over and kept safe from harm, but where personal and linguistic problems hold him back. A fear of the sun’s cancerous effects on his skin is among the least of his worries, in a country where his limbs are considered precious, and poachers will hunt him, for high bounties.

Secondly, from director Harry Freeland, another documentary, In The Shadow Of The Sun.

Filmed over six years, In the Shadow of the Sun tells the story of two men with albinism in Tanzania pursuing their dreams in the face of virulent prejudice. 

In the midst of an escalation in brutal murders of people with albinism, we meet Josephat Torner. Josephat decides to confront the communities where the killings are taking place saying, “I need to change society so it can accept me.” Along the way, he visits Ukerewe Island. He finds 62 people with albinism living there, including 15-year-old Vedastus. Vedastus, whose mother was told to kill him when he was born, has been bullied out of school and rejected by his community. But Vedastus dreams of returning to get an education. Dedicating his life to campaigning against this sort of discrimination against people with albinism–segregated from society and deprived of education–Josephat becomes a mentor to Vedastus.

Described as an intimate portrait of Vedastus and Josephat, filmmaker Harry Freeland reveals a story of deep-rooted superstition, heartfelt suffering, and incredible strength. 

And the third film, a work of narrative fiction (not a documentary), which I was alerted to this week, is executive produced by Ryan Gosling, was directed by Noaz Deshe, and is titled White Shadow.

In short, the film tells the story of Alias, a young Albino boy in Tanzania, whose attempts at living a better, peaceful life, are at risk by this haunt for his organs. 

The film, which won the Lions Of The Future award at the 2013 Venice Film Festival, and was also in the World Narrative competition at this year`s Sundance Film Festival, continues to travel the festival/screening series circuit, with a theatrical opening/run in Germany set for this November, via temperclayfilm – a Munich based production and distribution company for international independent films.

Distribution rights for other territories aren’t yet public information.

Watch its trailer below, followed by a trailer for White Black Boy; and, at the bottom, a trailer for In The Shadow Of The Sun::

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