Angels in the Dust


It’s not just children whom Marion Cloete and her family are rescuing in the de facto orphanage and school they’ve set up in rural South Africa, but childhood itself for these pint-sized refugees, from rape, child prostitution, hunger, and—above all—an AIDS epidemic that’s killing by the hundreds of thousands. A big, jolly, boundlessly energetic former Commie activist from the apartheid era who walked out on a life of luxury in Johannesburg to do good, Cloete has carved out a shelter for the children. She’s a licensed therapist who understands the value of a sympathetic ear, but also an advocate who trusts her charges enough that she can refract their grim reality back to them as hope, action, and self-care. Director Louise Hogarth (whose last documentary, The Gift, dealt with HIV-positive men who deliberately pass on the virus) deftly weaves in the big picture through Cloete’s bursts of anger at government ministers and traditional healers who willfully propagate the belief that sleeping with virgins cures disease. But the children’s most heartbreaking obstacle is the apathy and denial of their broken families, ground down by poverty, illness, and despair. Hogarth creates such a complete and satisfying world in the village that when her camera pans away to a forest of tiny graves in a Soweto cemetery, it’s a necessary shock to realize that the Cloete’s haven is one happy drop in an ocean of suffering. Cry if you must—then go to and do something.