'The Boy From Geita': Film Review

The Boy from Geita - H 2015
Courtesy of 108 Media

This disturbing documentary will hopefully bring about some much needed change.

Vic Sarin's documentary relates the tale of a young Tanzanian boy who was brutally attacked because of his albinism.

People afflicted with albinism suffer from a variety of physical problems, including poor vision and greater susceptibility to skin diseases, and often must endure the psychological scars from societal prejudice. But it's safe to say that few albinos experience as much hardship as do those who live in the African country of Tanzania, where they are ostracized and demonized by much of the population, with newborn albinos routinely killed.

Vic Sarin's documentary concentrating on one individual's story brings this situation to disturbing light. Thankfully featuring a happy ending of sorts, The Boy From Geita is a harrowing depiction of ignorance and superstition run amok.

The titular figure is Adam, a 12-year-old boy born with albinism who fell victim to a horrible vicious machete attack from an unknown assailant, leaving him with one arm sliced and several fingers on his other side cut off. Despite these horrific injuries, he was actually luckier than another victim, a young woman who had both her arms severed.

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The motivation for these attacks is the widespread belief among the local population that the body parts of albinos have mystical properties. They are thus in great demand by local witch doctors who use them in potions. One elderly witch doctor interviewed in the film admits to using them, but defends himself by saying that he merely purchases the limbs and hasn't actually killed anyone.

The story's other central figure is Peter Ash, an albino Canadian businessman who learned of Adam's plight from a BBC news story. Ash paid for Adam to travel to Vancouver for surgery to restore the use of his hand so he could pursue his dream of becoming a portrait artist. The film's graphic footage of the operation is definitely not for the squeamish, although hearts will be warmed by the revelation that all five surgeons volunteered their services.

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It's a deeply moving tale, although one disjointedly told by the filmmaker, which sometimes results in confusion. Nor can he resist the contrivance of a sentimental climactic reunion between Adam and his younger brother, also afflicted with albinism. But all can be forgiven if The Boy From Geita receives sufficient attention to spark much-needed societal reform in a country in which such barbarism apparently goes unchecked.   

Production: Sepia Films
Director/screenwriter/director of photography: Vic Sarin
Producers: Tina Pehme, Kim C. Roberts
Editor: Austin Andrews
Composer: Andrew Orkin

Not rated, 80 minutes