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. So the story survives and thrives on its own organic elements and characters. We also didn’t 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 persepctives, without being told what to think.
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 the sole female schoolteacher Olga Sidibe in Banko village to Dr. 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.
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 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 was 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 what they’ve seen and apply it just as easily to 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 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.
BURNING IN THE SUN is often labeled as a film that is ‘African’ or ‘Environmental’, but our goal in telling this particular story is to disegregate these two topics, and to encourage niche audiences 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.