Burning in the Sun
An inspirational portrait of a young West African man who starts a business building solar panels from scratch and selling them to rural customers in Mali.
Directed by Cambria Matlow and Morgan Robinson
Produced by Birdgirl Productions
Editors: Emily Paine, Daniel Praid
Music: Ronen Landa
Kora Solos: Yacouba Sissoko
Co-Producer: Claire Weingarten
With support from: Independent Feature Project, LEF Foundation, Brooklyn Arts Council, Experimental Television Center, Puffin Foundation
Note: There are two versions of this program on the same DVD: 83-minutes and 22-minutes.
"If you are hungry for solutions to renewable energy development in developing countries, this is the film you have been waiting for." Len Broberg, Director and Professor, Environmental Studies, University of Montana
26-year-old Daniel Dembélé is equal parts West African and European, and looking to make his mark on the world. 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% 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 of the business' impact on Daniel's first customers in the tiny village of Banko. Addressing climate change, poverty, and self-sufficiency, the film demonstrates how a small-scale, local business model can provide jobs, appropriate technology, and empowerment to people everywhere. The film also explores what it means to grow up as a man, and a vision of what it takes to prosper as a nation.
Grade Level: 7 - 9, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2011
Copyright Date: 2010
DVD ISBN: 1-59458-911-9
"If you are hungry for solutions to renewable energy development in developing countries, this is the film you have been waiting for. Burning in the Sun documents the efforts of a Malian entrepreneur to build a solar panel production business while helping his people. The trials of bringing solar power to rural sites are frankly addressed with ultimate success. This film chronicles a roadmap to sustainability that could be duplicated around the world, offering hope for a planet."
Len Broberg, Director and Professor, Environmental Studies Department, University of Montana
"Burning In The Sun puts a human face on technological change. It tells a story of small-scale development in Africa in a way that is simple, but visually striking. The future of electrical power in Africa, and in the world, may not be huge hydroelectric grids, but power offered on a local scale in the village and the urban neighborhood. This film demonstrates both the promise of the sustainability of solar power on a small scale, and at the same time, raises questions about the limitations of sustainable energy, given the shortage of cheap materials, the need for maintenance at the local level, and the need for clever adaptation to each individual situation."
James C. McCann, Professor of History, Associate Director, African Studies Center, Boston University, Author, Maize and Grace: Africa's Encounter with a New World Crop
"An insightful and inspiring story on the promises of sustainable social enterprise. Affordable solar energy technology in the hands of the poor can change the life of a village, improving education, access to water and empowering women. Students and educators can use this tool for illustrating the power of small projects in global and local sustainable development."
Dr. Marco Tavanti, Professor, International Sustainable Development, DePaul University-Chicago
"As a teacher and user of small-scale solar PV systems, I very much appreciate the take-away message of this film--innovation, education, collaboration can make solar energy truly accessible, affordable and fun. Bravo!"
Dr. Jonathan Scherch, Core Faculty, Center for Creative Change, Antioch University Seattle
"Beautifully illustrates the realities of life in rural and urban Malian settlements where there is no electricity, and shows the many benefits brought by the arrival of solar energy. It perfectly captures the complexities behind solar PV installation projects, the interactions between those with the power of knowledge and technology and those without, and the practicalities and considerations that go into each installation...But the film's great strength lies in the way in which its subjects speak for themselves on complex issues relating to the legacy of colonialism in the African economic system, neo-colonial power imbalances, gender norms, and the rural/urban divide. Rather than relying upon an authoritative voiceover that teaches these themes, the filmmakers have brilliantly captured the statements on these issues of urban youth, school masters, and rural farmers, and the credibility behind these unadulterated remarks is extremely powerful. This film will appeal to students of international development,
sustainability energy technologies, and social change, and will compliment lecture material and scholarly writing on these topics."
Kimber Haddix McKay, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Montana
"A no-frills, straightforward documentary...demonstrates how a small-scale, local business can model efficiency, provide jobs, and supply context-appropriate products. By the end of the film, we learn that the young men who launched the business have expanded it to serve high profile clientele, such as the US Embassy, USAID, Geekcorps, and a variety of NGOs. Burning in the Sun is a good teaching tool and would work well in a unit focusing on appropriate technology... The film enables the audience to share in the steep learning curve of people adopting and implementing a new-to-them technology, gives us insights into how their solar projects must be negotiated with a variety of local politicians and businessmen to acquire support, and shows us how they navigate setbacks and frustrations to finally realize the completion of their first project. Burning in the Sun is well-suited for advanced high school students, university audiences, and the general public."
Dr. Jennifer Coffman, Department of Integrated Science and Technology, Associate Executive Director, International Programs, James Madison University
"Burning in the Sun showcases an excellent example of just what can be accomplished when a simple but good idea is combined with a dedication to improving the lives of those around you. A small group of ordinary people can come together and use their varied skill sets to make an enormous difference in the lives of many, one Malian village at a time. With little more than discarded solar 'junk cells,' and readily purchased batteries, one village after another benefits from the renewable energy provided by these locally made solar panels; bringing not just electricity to those living in remote areas of the country, but also economic opportunity. Just as the sun has always nourished the crops that these villagers farm, the solar panels provided by Afriq Power have allowed a whole new kind of seed to germinate in Mali."
Muna Ndulo, Professor of Law, Cornell Law School, Director, Institute for African Development, Cornell University, Honorary Professor of Law, Cape
"Populated with individuals who defy stereotypes and push the viewer to reconsider who might 'do good' and where, this film is an excellent teaching tool for questions of environment, energy, and political economy. The story line focuses on what seems like a simple need--the gift of light--but follows it into the corners of school classrooms, mud huts, local businesses, and water tanks to reveal both the possibilities and problems of providing it. In so doing it raises complex questions about who might 'fix' problems of poverty and how, while addressing the inequities of the global economy and the looming consequences of unsustainable lifestyles."
Rachel DeMotts, Assistant Professor, Department of Politics and Government, University of Puget Sound
"Remarkable homegrown heroes...Watching the new Afriq-Power company achieve its small revolution is an uplifting experience, with Dembele an exceptional role model."
"Part business plan and part 'how-to' video, Burning in the Sun reflects the potential for positive change that comes when people cooperate and put aside personal profit for more altruistic ends...This film teaches viewers not only about the power of education, but that projects dedicated to producing sustainable energy sources, similar to Daniel's, are possible beyond Mali. Highly Recommended."
Jason Harshman, The Ohio State University, Educational Media Reviews Online
"[It's] about how alternative energy can literally bring electrical power to the powerless...An intellectually and emotionally uplifting true story. A choice pick for school and public library DVD collections."
The Midwest Book Review
"An intriguing documentary...Can easily be used in undergraduate classes to teach about culture, infrastructure and development."
Katrien Pype, University of Leuven, Anthropology Reviews Database
"The film takes the audience on a progressive voyage to bring affordable solar energy to rural communities. Throughout the film the steady advancement of the project unites the audience and brings great pleasure to the viewer when Dembele and his crew finish the projects in Banko Village...The scenes are eye-opening for viewers and, in this viewer, awakened a desire to be more proactive...I would highly recommend this film."
Kylee Geisler, Rural Connections
"I loved this unique eco-documentary...A compelling personal story that would be interesting even if the star, charming Daniel Dumbele, were selling shoes instead of PV panels...I recommend this inspirational and informative documentary to anyone--for personal viewing at home, to fuel family discussions, to illustrate multiple issues to students--poverty in developing nations, grass-roots solutions to our environmental crisis, communities working together to learn new technologies. Burning In the Sun is perhaps the most fully-fleshed out documentary I've seen yet--a very human story."
Dr. Sally Kneidel, Veggie Revolution Blog
"One of the [New York African Film] Festival's highlights...A really moving portrait of a simple, realistic solution that evades labels of heroism...With inspiring calm, Dembele illustrates a struggle at the heart of this year's festival: to embrace independence but to understand the harsh really of fulfilling its promise."
"Director Cambria Matlow found in Mali a young man whose personal story and drive to succeed so parallels Barack Obama's that the film's sociological insights almost outweigh the accomplishment of bringing cheap electricity to poor villages...The forward-looking and charismatic Daniel, multilingual and multicultural, is at ease with [the villagers], the foreign experts, government officials, and local suppliers."
Includes 83-minute and 22-minute versions, both with scene selection and SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Also included are three short films: Burning in the States: New York City Teens Go Solar
[7:30]; Ji Duma: Bring Them Water [10:41] and Solar Ovens in Mali [8:25]
The film's website
The film's trailer
Awards and Festivals
International Green Film Award, Cinema for Peace, Berlin International Film Festival
Grand Jury Prize, Best Environmental Film, Santa Cruz Film Festival
Audience Award, Indie Spirit Film Festival
Audience Award, Best Documentary Feature, Southern Utah International Documentary Film Festival
Best Solutions Film, Cinema Verde Environmental Film and Arts Festival
FICMA, Barcelona International Environmental Film Festival
Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital
Sedona International Film Festival
New York African Film Festival
Woods Hole Film Festival
Landlocked Film Festival
Real to Reel Film Festival
Roxbury Film Festival
Atlanta International Documentary Film Festival
EcoFocus Film Festival
Scottsdale International Film Festival
Kansas International Film Festival
Vermont International Film Festival
Duke City Doc Fest
Bend Film Festival
Virginia Film Festival
Colorado Environmental Film Festival
Urban Mediamakers Film Festival
Lone Star Film Festival
Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers
Whitehead International Film Festival
Cascade African Film Festival
Princeton Environmental Film Festival
Society for Visual Anthropology Film and Interactive Media Festival
Montreal International Black Film Festival
Tasmanian Breath of Fresh Air Film Festival
Reel Earth Film Festival
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"A fascinating subject...riveting, and the ramifications are pretty extraordinary--for Mali, of course, but for poor countries worldwide and, in fact, for some rich ones, too."