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by Mark Elijah Rosenberg
September 15th, 2010

Rooftop alum film Burning in the Sun is up for a $20,000 prize, but you have to vote today!

Cambria Matlow and Morgan Robinson’s documentary about a young man in Mali trying to bring solar power to his energy-deprived nation has been nominated for Link TV View Change award. His innovative and daring project is poignantly captured in a fascinating film we premiered in 2009. Watch the 5-minute trailer and vote for the Rooftop alum by the end of September 15!

Here’s what I wrote about the film in our program guide last year:

BURNING IN THE SUN
(Cambria Matlow & Morgan Robinson | New York & Mali | www.birdgirlproductions.com | 65 min.)
26-year-old charmer Daniel Dembele is equal parts West African and European, and looking to make his mark on the world. A chance encounter while managing a café in Europe convinces him to return to his homeland in Mali and start a local business building solar panels—the first of its kind in the sun drenched nation. Daniel’s goal is to electrify the households of rural communities, 99% of which live without power. Burning in the Sun tells the story of Daniel’s journey growing the shaky startup into a viable company, and of the business’ impact on Daniel’s first customers in the tiny village of Banko. Taking controversial stances on climate change, poverty, and African self-sufficiency, the film explores what it means to grow up as a man, and what it takes to prosper as a nation.

Founding a small business is something that is deeply embedded in American and European culture, a topic to which many can relate. But most have never seen this universal kind of effort take place in Africa, traditionally marked out by the media as the land of the starving, the war ravaged and the hopeless. In this portrayal of Daniel, who undertakes a familiar effort in an unfamiliar environment, the filmmakers attempt to open the door to what is possible in Africa, and update Western cultural awareness with a profound dose of optimism. For directors Matlow and Robinson, Daniel’s work shatters notions of the need for African dependence on outside aid and embraces the view that ultimately it is Africans who will develop Africa in their own way.

Now more than ever before, people around the world have come to see green-collar jobs not just as a liberal myth but as an absolute necessity for survival in our rapidly changing economies and environments. Daniel’s work reminds us that every country needs a leader who will encourage this kind of transformative change. His charisma, intelligence, and daring suggest a young Barack Obama, and it is difficult not to imagine him one day taking high office in Mali.

Surprising visual contrasts, like a bright blue shiny modern solar panel resting on the ground of a pale brown dusty African village, confront a viewer’s preconceptions about solar energy and about Africa. Scenes shot in natural sunlight and total darkness work strategically to place the viewer in the characters’ shoes. The original score combines emotional orchestral sounds with modern R&B swagger and traditional Malian folk music to sonically reinforce the idea that something utterly new and original is taking place. Handheld camerawork emphasizes Daniel’s infectious energy and constant movement forward, while serene shots of rural Mali’s slow, small-town pace contrast with Daniel’s kineticism and the urban chaos of the capital and punctuate the cultural divide between them. Throughout the film, expert interviews and voiceover narration are omitted in favor of giving space to both Daniel and the people of Banko to tell their own story, in their own words.

Strikingly beautiful and a revolution of ideas, Burning in the Sun is not a typical portrait of Africa.

VOTE!

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Rooftop Films is a New York based non-profit whose mission is to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.

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