Burning in the Sun
The story of one man's quest to bring sustainable solar power to remote communities in Mali.
Last Modified: 22 Nov 2010 12:11 GMT

Filmmakers: Cambria Matlow and Morgan Robinson

Twenty-six-year-old Daniel Dembélé is equal parts West African and European, and looking to make his mark on the world.


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Seizing the moment at a crossroads in his life, Daniel decides 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 per cent of which live without power.

Burning in the Sun tells the story of Daniel's journey growing the budding idea into a viable company, and its 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.

Burning in the Sun can be seen from Sunday, November 21, at the following times GMT: Sunday: 0830, 1900; Monday: 0330, 1400, 2330.

Director's statement

At the beginning we wanted to make a movie about everyone we had filmed during the three months and 140 hours of tape we shot in Mali, because each character was so fascinating and vibrant. We could have made a different and exciting movie about any one of them, from Olga Sidibe, the sole female schoolteacher in the village of Banko, to Richard Komp, the mad scientist who acts as Daniel's mentor.

After months of editing though, it became clear that Daniel Dembélé - passionate, complex, and commanding onscreen - was to be the main focus, and that his story could best encompass the issues we wanted to delve into in the film.

Some of the most valuable feedback we got while crafting this film was from our editor, Emily Paine. She encouraged us to trust our material and not try to make anything fancy, fabricated, or to insert any "big drama" that did not otherwise naturally emerge.


Burning in the Sun has received the following awards:

  Audience Award, Best Environmental Film - Indie Spirit Film Festival
  Grand Jury Prize, Best EarthVision Environmental Film - Santa Cruz International Film Festival

So the story survives and thrives on its own organic elements and characters. We also did not want the film to be dogmatic or preachy. We wanted viewers to feel safe with the characters and the situations we presented, and to have the space to approach the material from their own perspectives, without being told what to think.

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 our portrayal of Daniel, who undertakes a familiar effort in an unfamiliar environment, we attempt to open the door to what is viewed as possible in Africa, and update Western cultural awareness with a profound dose of optimism. For us, 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 as an absolute necessity for survival in our rapidly changing economies and environments. Daniel's daring, charisma and intelligence remind us of the sort of leadership required around the globe that will encourage this level of transformative change.

It is important to us for the film to showcase him as an African leader, not only of his country, but as a global trendsetter. So not only do viewers come away with a greater understanding of the kind of development that makes the most sense for Africa, but a sense of profound inspiration that they can take the action they have seen and apply it in their own communities.

Visual contrasts, like a bright blue shiny modern solar panel resting on the ground of a pale brown dusty 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 emphasises 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 favour of giving space to both Daniel and the people of Banko to tell their own story, in their own words.

Burning in the Sun is often labelled as a film that is 'African' or 'Environmental', but our goal in telling this particular story is to desegregate these two topics, and to encourage disparate conversations to join together in dialogue, and start a new discussion on the world stage.

Strikingly beautiful, surprisingly emotional and a revolution of ideas, the film provides a newschool portrait of a Green Africa capable of inspiring worldwide emulation.

Click here for more on the film.

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