Behind the Blue Veil: Film Review

This powerful, if scattershot, documentary sheds valuable light on its little-known subject.

Robyn Symon's documentary examines the plight of Mali's nomadic Tuareg people.

The Tuareg people of Mali don’t have it easy these days. These nomadic tribesmen, who have lived in the Sahara region for over 2,000 years, are currently beset by such crises as severe poverty, a lack of food, water and medicine, and political pressures that threaten to drive them from existence. Their travails are movingly conveyed in Robyn Simon’s (Transformation: The Life & Legacy of Werner Erhard) documentary Behind the Blue Veil, the title of which stems from the trademark blue robes worn by the people that dye their skin blue over time.

The film’s central figure is Mamatel, the son of a Tuareg chief who works as a music promoter in the capital city of Bamako. This charismatic, articulate figure serves as the viewer’s guide to the culture of the “blue people of the Sahara,” who are fighting for independence from the repressive government even as Al Qaeda militants threaten to overcome the region.

Commentary by Mamatel and various scholars and academics testify to the fact that that the Tuareg people live in a matriarchal, monogamous society with a rich cultural heritage that is seemingly on the verge of extinction. Among the other figures profiled in the film is 12-year-old Salah, who seeks an education in Timbuktu, a city facing severe economic pressures due to its dangerously volatile conditions that has made it off limits to tourists.

The film is more impressionistic than informative, lacking the necessary dramatic structure to make it truly compelling. But it well succeeds in its goal of shedding light on these little-known indigenous people, even if, at times, it more resembles a National Geographic pictorial essay than a fully realized documentary.

Opens: Friday, Nov. 1 (Symon Productions)

Director/producer/editor: Robyn Simon

Executive producers: Linda Simon, James L. Foght, Martha Foght, CA Danella Foundation

Composer: Miriam Cutler

Not rated, 62 min.

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