Screening: Albino United

By Antonia Roupell

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“Albinos are human too” was the resounding message from Marc Hoeferlin, Barney Broomfield, and Juan Reina’s film Albino United. A story that  follows not only Tanzanian Albinos’ struggle for equality but their struggle for survival.

Dangerous beliefs that “Albinos are human ghosts” has lead to the brutal mutilations and killings of this minority.  The film carefully explores the myths that witch doctors’ potions, made of Albino’s body parts, have magical powers.

Far from hopeless, it is as David Niblock stated, “a light-hearted film about very serious issues.” The protagonists are a Tanzanian Albino-majority football team. Their goal: to win matches in order to win over minds. The team’s determination on both  these fronts proves to be unfaltering.

Football offers them a rare tool to undermine the limitations  imposed upon them as they travel into the heart of the areas with the highest numbers of Albino killings, one of which is Mwanza. The documentary effectively balances dark insights into the inhuman treatment of Albinos with uplifting scenes of the teams progression from failure to success.

The team members’ mischievous smiles  along with their animated coach, found the audience laughing one minute while silently transfixed to the screen the next.

When asked how the team reacted to being filmed on their bumpy road to victory, Marc answered, “When they were failing (in football) they were embarrassed.” He admits, “we started wondering- we don’t have a film here.” Nevertheless, the underdogs are shown to triumph and Marc concludes,  “our rapport with the players went beyond football, beyond film.”

Claudio, who more recently directed Spell of the Albino for al Jazeera’s Africa Investigates, filmed in the same areas as Hoeferlin and his team. Having witnessed two Albino attacks within the first five days of shooting he quickly came to the realisation that, “this is not just a media hype, this is happening.”

His documentary focuses more directly on Albino attacks. He used  an undercover cameraman and, quite extraordinarily, a realistic prosthetic albino arm to provoke reactions among locals.

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Despite the illegal nature of handling Albino parts, both directors agreed that witch doctors were difficult to prosecute.  The discussion moved to the first Albino MP, Al-Shymaa Kway-Geer, in parliament since 2008.  Hoeferlin felt this was a genuine attempt on behalf of the Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete to undermine Albino persecution.  Von Planta concluded, “equality among people is a very new concept, it needs a lot of work, above all education.”

According to Hoeferlin the team is still playing, although they are looking for a new training ground. They now have  a Facebook account and some outside support.