Case Study: Tribe of Ghosts A documentary about children with albinism who live in a Tanzanian government-run shelter.
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Case Study: Tribe of Ghosts

A documentary about children with albinism who live in a Tanzanian government-run shelter.

Almicheal Fraay (1992) is a filmmaker and visual artist based in the Netherlands. His films have a documentarist focus on the exposing of underexposed stories. Recurrent themes are injustice, minorities and social issues. Almicheal Fraay completed his bachelor in film at The school of Fine Arts and Design St. Joost in 2018. Tribe of Ghost is his S16mm graduation film, a short documentary about children with albinism in Tanzania, which he wrote, directed and shot. He is currently working on a new short film about children working in illegal gold mines in South Africa.

“I want to show how things really are, rather than how they might appear to be.”

08 maart 2019

A horrific image

“This project started a couple of years ago when my mother showed me a video on her mobile. It was of a man laying on the ground with barely any clothes. His right arm was missing and his skin was pearl white. It was a horrific image, one I couldn’t get out of my head. After doing some research I found out that this man has albinism. Children born with albinism in Africa start life with a price tag on their head because their body parts are sometimes used in witchdoctors spells and potions to bring good luck. Witchdoctors continue to propagate the belief that people with albinism are spirits whose body parts could be used to obtain wealth and good fortune. So many children in parts in Africa are being killed.”

A dangerous way to the footage

“Getting inside this government run shelter was very difficult. My options were very limited; I could pay around $4000 for a fixer, but that would not guarantee me access to the shelter. Or I could send my script to the film department of Tanzania which would have to approve of my script before I could start filming. If it was approved they would send someone to watch my every move while filming, telling me what I can and cannot film. This issue surrounding people with albinism is very sensitive so I knew I wasn’t going to get their permission. Now let me tell you something: I wasn’t going to partake in a propaganda film and pay for it. So the only way I could do this was my way, which was to shoot this film without their permission. After many weeks of searching I (luckily) found an anonymous source who got me in.”


“After my first visit, I came back and started a crowdfunding on CineCrowd so I could finance my trip and film. In the end I raised 15,000 euro with assistance of Kunstloc Brabant and Brabants Cultuurfonds. With the help of all these amazing people, my producer at Bandit Amsterdam, Kodak, who provided me with some 16mm film stock, Audentity, CAPTCHA!, DPPLR, Camera Rentals, KlevR Sounddesign, and my loving parents I could finalize this project.”

Being an observer

“We had plans to film this with a bigger crew, but after considering many options I decided that if we were going to do this that we had to do it under the radar. Which meant a smaller crew, so I only went in with my sound engineer.”

“The way I filmed was by being an observer. A fly on the wall. By being an observer, you are not asking these children to tell you about things that are happening. I want to show how things really are, ratherthan how they might appear to be. I want the daily lives of the children to dictate the content of the film. I want to give the viewer the feeling that they are there with me. I want to film scenes that really highlight their innocence and childhood. These kids are doing what kids are meant to do, but it shouldn’t be in this shelter where they are being kept for their own safety. By contrasting that they are being kept as prisoners, really brings up ethical questions. You as the viewer are always reminded that behind their laughter lies the reality, that they are surrounded by walls and are imprisoned like animals.”

“The interview with the witchdoctor was done by positioning the camera symmetrically so in this way the person that is being interviewed is looking at the viewer. This will call for discomfort, and by doing this I will make the viewer a witness to these events. Also by placing the witchdoctor centered, it shows the viewer who is in control. There are other forces out there who are deciding for these people that control has to be taken away and given back.”

Artistic decisions

“The film was shot on Super 16mm KODAK VISION3 50D Color Negative Film and FUJICOLOR ETERNA 250T Color Negative Film. I used two types of film to contrast the world the kids live in and the world the witchdoctor lives in. Their world is warm and colorful, but his world is cold. Film is also something timeless, which contributes to the message that this is still a problem. I also think that film is the perfect tool to capture the rawness and grittiness. The children are also sensitive to light, so is film.”

When filming becomes a safety threat

“Filming on location was going well, but after two days of filming my source had found out that the authorities knew that we were filming illegally and said we had to leave the hotel or they would find us. Accordingly, we had to leave our hotel and stay in a small village 5 hours away and wait until our trip back home. Now we had to adapt and see what scenes we were missing (We were missing many scenes). I jokingly said to my producer that I was going back. Now she wasn’t too keen on it after what happened on my last trip. My school wasn’t happy either due to my safety but I knew that I couldn’t come back with an incomplete story, so I had to try at least. But sadly I couldn’t return to the shelter due to safety reasons.”

Two types of filmmakers

“Would I have done anything different? Yes, many things but I want to give something to any filmmaker out there. There are two types of filmmakers, the ones who talk about making a film and the ones who actually do it. Stop talking about making films, and go out there. Do not compromise on your vision, ever. As a filmmaker I think that is all you have in the end when the cameras stop rolling. Hold on to that vision no matter what. Nobody said it was going to be easy. Just keep fighting. You might lose but you can’t win if you don’t fight. Do not let anyone get in your way!”

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