IN THE SHADOW OF THE SUN (Harry Freeland, 2012)
Saturday, June 15, 9:15, IFC Center, 323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Sunday, June 16, 6:00, Film Society of Lincoln Center, Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Francesca Beale Theater, 144 West 65th St. at Amsterdam Ave.
Festival runs June 13-23
One of the themes of the twenty-fourth edition of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival is Traditional Values and Human Rights, and it is exemplified by the frightening yet inspiring documentary In the Shadow of the Sun. In January 2007, Josephat Torner, one of an estimated 170,000 albinos living in Tanzania, told his wife and kids that he was setting off for two months to travel the country to educate local communities about albinism in the wake of a series of dismemberments and killings brought on by witch doctors claiming that the body parts of albinos will bring people wealth and success. “This is what our lives have become,” Torner tells director, producer, editor, and cameraman Harry Freeland at the beginning of the film. “One of the many things we have had to learn is to live in danger.” Two months turned into years as Torner battled Tanzanians’ fears that albinos were white ghosts or demons, forcing them to live in camps or hiding them from public view. Freeland also focuses on Vedastus Chinese Zangule, a teenager who wants to go to school to become an electrician, but his efforts to get an education are continually thwarted by red tape and discrimination. Torner becomes a mentor to the open and honest Vedastus, trying to help him achieve his goals against the odds. The documentary, which features beautiful vistas in Tanzania, particularly on Ukerewe Island, where a community of albinos live as if in exile from the mainland, is narrated by Torner and Vedastus, both of whom are determined not to give up. Torner continually risks his life, going into the neighborhoods where maimings and killings have taken place, trying to prove to the men, women, and children who live there that albinos are just people, not monsters to be exploited as good-luck charms. Meanwhile, more albinos are murdered as Torner continues his journey.
In the Shadow of the Sun is a powerful, shattering examination of discrimination and racism in the twenty-first century as well as a testament to the strength and determination of the individual spirit; Freeland (Waiting for Change) lets these two extraordinary figures, Torner and Vedastus, tell their intermingling stories with both grace and a kind of poetry while sharing the many faces of albinism, showing both the inherent cruelty and beauty of humanity as well as the importance of education. In the Shadow of the Sun is screening June 15 at the IFC Center and June 16 at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, followed by Q&As with Freeland. The Human Rights Watch Film Festival runs June 13-23, comprising nineteen narrative and nonfiction works that examine such themes as Women’s Rights, LGBT Rights, Journalism, Human Rights in the United States, and Crises and Migration, including the New York and/or U.S. premiere of such films as Raoul Peck’s Fatal Assistance, Shaun Kadlec and Deb Tullmann’s Born This Way, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, and Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin’s Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer.