Angels in the Dust

| September 10, 2007

When most of us hear of a film, more than likely a documentary, about the epidemic of HIV/AIDS in Africa, it doesn’t seems as much as a shock as it would have ten years ago. With the many organizations asking for donations of food, clothes and/or money, it is all too easy to become sanitized to the idea that there are those who are suffering and in need in a land that seems so far away from the world in which we live. It is also too easy for the subject matter to become lost and forgotten though the tragedy of it still remains.
Angels in the Dust is a film that attempts to keep fresh in our minds the horrific affect that HIV/AIDS has had on the country of South Africa. An attempt that is very successful and compelling as it follows the lives of Marion Cloete, her family, and the orphaned children who the Cloete family is trying to help keep a semblence of hope in a country grasping for survival.
Louise Hogarth (The Gift) takes us into the Boikarabelo orphanage (formerly Botshabelo) to get a firsthand look at the lives of a few of the more than 550 children who have either lost their parent to AIDS, losing their parents and family members to AIDS, or who are victims of the ignorance that surrounds AIDS. Specifically the ignorance that surrounds a myth that sex with a virgin can cure the disease, giving cause for men to rape young girls condemning them to death and the ignorance of the government and the media who misinforms.
The film centers around Marion Cloete who we find, as the story progresses, has always been an activists. There’s even a moment where she contributes meeting her husband to keeping her alive because she was sure she would have died from her stance on issues. This moment alone gives you a glimpse of how dedicated she is to helping these children. What makes Angels in the Dust even more compelling is the fact that not only does Marion has this dedication but so does her husband and their two twin daughters. Along with Marion they gave up a privileged life in the suburbs of Johannesburg and there is not one moment in this film that you feel anyone has any regrets.
As you meet the children of the orphanage you see just how well the delivery of the film works. You are immediately put into their lives as if you’re just a fly on the wall. Hogarth decision to let Marion and the children’s interaction become the main focus reminds you of how so many other documentaries have gone wrong. When you meet Lillian, Maki, Betty, and Virginia, four girls who show us the wisdom they were forced to learn because of their experiences, you are put face to face with HIV/AIDS and their realities. During a day vigil to rally for the removal of the Minister of Health, from a distant the cameraperson closes in on the face of Virginia as her mind wonders off. At this point you are well aware of what deep thoughts are weighing on such a young mind. These girls are not the only children we meet but their stories will definitely have a profound impact on what you will take away from this film.
Hogarth, who has dedicated her life to social and human rights issues, has made a neat package with this film of information as she tries to keep you aware of this epidemic. She steps out of the orphanage and shows us the interaction that Marion has with the villagers. This story may center on the children but it also emphasizes how everyone is involved. We meet a young man who is slowly dying under a tree, we see the many graves of children who the village have given them their own cemetery, we see the business end of how the Cloete’s are trying to help keep tradition and successfully bury those who have succumb to the disease, and we see the frankness Marion has to use in order to convince families how they need help.
As we meet Marion, you definitely get the sense that she is a strong woman and has definitely become accustomed to the environment in the 18 years she’s been there. But through her tough exterior you do see her humbleness as in one moment in the film she has to except the wishes of one woman’s decision to no longer fight and to let go.
With all the sadness that comes with this film, there are moments of happiness. We definitely see the love the children have for Marion as she rises with them in the morning and prepares them for school. The tradition of dance remains a celebratory moment when bringing everyone together, and the interaction of the children themselves to one another as if everyone is family.
If you approach this film thinking that one HIV/AIDS story is no different than the other you would be making a major mistake. I truly enjoyed the rollercoaster of emotions I felt when I watched Angels in the Dust. The moments of sadness as we learn of the lives of these children and their families, the moments of joy as Marion brings life into their hearts and eyes as she encourages in their ability to fight, and the moments when my ignorance no longer became an excuse, because now, I know.

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