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April 09, 2013 | posted in Filmmakers
Harry Freeland had no idea how much his life would change when a Senegalese mother tried to give him her child.
"She held out a child towards me and asked me to 'take this child back to where it belongs,'” says Freeland. “The woman had been left by her husband because she had given birth to a white child. She thought, because her child had white skin, it must belong to me."
The child had albinism, a condition widely misunderstood and frequently stigmatized throughout African nations. As Freeland learned more about how widespread the problem was, and how little attention it had been getting, he decided that he needed to make a film about it.
Soon after he started filming, the murders began in Tanzania, and swiftly escalated. Albinos, many of them children, were being maimed and butchered for the supposedly magical properties of their skin and organs. Scores of people would end up dead.
"The murders were never my primary motive for making the film," he points out. "I had started filming before the killings were first reported in 2006, so the film follows life before and during the escalation of the murders. The resulting film, I feel, is a true reflection of the extraordinary strength people show when faced with such adversity."
Freeland spent the first four years of shooting essentially unfunded, supporting his project by making films for other NGOs operating in the nations around Tanzania. He was eventually able to secure funding from the BBC and ITVS International, which allowed the documentary to move forward at a more ambitious pace. The four years, however, had given him an intimate knowledge of the crisis and its key players, and had transformed the film from a project to an integral part of his life. He and one of the film's stars, Josephat, ended up co-founding a charity called Standing Voice. Its mission: to improve the lives of people with albinism not only in Tanzania, but throughout Africa.
"(Josephat) now views the film as 'his weapon' for the work he continues to do," Freeland says.
That work is extensive. Standing Voice is engaged in an active program of outreach, traveling to rural communities throughout East Africa to screen “In the Shadow of the Sun” and dispel the commonly-held myths about albinism. Freeland has faith that, with the actual facts before them, people will adopt a more compassionate stance toward their neighbors and relatives with albinism.
"After the first BBC broadcast," he points out, "Josephat and I received hundreds of emails from people wanting to know how they can help. I believe passionately that documentary films are extremely powerful and persuasive tools when raising awareness and instigating change."
Photo by Janet Macoska
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