Rivers of Sand



Robert Gardner, 1974

Runtime: 85 minutes

My first choice as a title for the film that became Rivers of Sand was Creatures of Pain. Though it seemed at the time to evoke most aptly the central theme of the work, I was persuaded by friends not to use it. They felt, perhaps correctly, that it was too somber, too susceptible to wrong interpretation. But what I heard in those words is what I felt as I made the film: the anguish of an ordeal and a process by which men and women accommodate each other in the midst of conflict and tension caused by fidelity to their culture’s values.

The people portrayed in this film are called Hamar. They dwell in the thorny scrubland of southwestern Ethiopia, about one hundred miles north of Lake Rudolph, Africa’s great inland sea. They are isolated by some distant choice that now limits their movement and defines their condition. At least until recently, it has resulted in their retaining a highly traditional way of life.

Part of that tradition was the open, even flamboyant, observance of male supremacy. In their isolation, they seemed to have refined this not uncommon principle of social organization into a remarkably pure state. Hamar men are masters and their women are slaves. The film tries to disclose the effect on mood and behavior of lives governed by the idea of sexual inequality.

The 2008 Special Edition DVD includes:

  • The film optimally remastered for sound and image from a new 35mm blow up
  • Audio commentary track by Robert Gardner and Robert Fenz
  • Photo gallery featuring still images and journal entries read by Robert Gardner

distributed by Documentary Educational Resources