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22 October - 13 November
FoSS and ESRC logos

A Social Itch

Double-bill film screening of experimental docudramas about the social and political experience of scabies locally, and around the world

Image of hands of someone with scabes

My local area theme

Professional audiences

What’s on offer?

The Social Itch: Double-bill film screening of experimental docudramas about the social and political experience of scabies locally and in other parts of the world. Intro + Q & A with Ethiopian filmmaker, Eyerusalem Kassahun, + social scientists from Brighton and Sussex Medical School.

Doors open 6.30pm: The cinema bar and coffee shop will be open and hosting an interactive exhibition about local and global public health research projects on scabies.

7pm: Introduction to anthropology and filmmaking by Gem Aellah, anthropologist; introduction to the short With a Forest Dark, highlighting local issues of scabies in care homes in coastal towns like Eastbourne by Jo Middleton, disease ecologist and Jackie Cassell, doctor and public health specialist.

7.10 pm: 15-minute screening of Within a Forest Dark

7.25pm: Introduction to the feature film by filmmaker, Eyerusalem Kassahun, and social scientist Dereje Wonde, whose research with a community affected with scabies in Ethiopia informed the film.

7.35 pm: 40-minute screening of The Agony of the Night

8.15 pm: Q & A with The Agony of the Night filmmaker, Within a Forest Dark composer, scabies experts and social scientists working on communities affected by scabies in the UK, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and other parts of the world.

What’s it about?

This event explores how film and social science can be used to better understand the multi-layered meanings of disease and disease outbreaks. Through experimental docudrama film, it offers a close, intimate insight into the lives of people suffering from scabies in different parts of the world. Scabies is an age-old disease – an infestation by the tiny parasitic mite Sarcoptes scabiei and occurs worldwide. Simple, effective treatment exists, yet outbreaks persist, especially affecting vulnerable and marginalised communities where it causes considerable distress and devasting secondary infections. At this event you will see some fascinating docudrama films, and social science experts will contextualise these through short introductions. There will be the chance for the audience to discuss the films with those involved in their making and ask questions at the end.

Short: Within a Forest Dark (2017) Director: Peter Cant, Music by Ed Hughes, English with English Subtitles. 15 minutes

Synopsis: Short film of an experimental performance of a mini opera about the experience of transition into a care home and scabies towards the end of life in the UK. Diana, a retired schoolteacher, is facing challenges. She no longer recognises her surroundings and thinks she is in a dark forest, expressing her confusion in the words of Dante. Joy, her care home assistant, alerts the family to a new problem - Dianna is feeling itchy. Diana, suffering intolerable itching and increasingly confused, expresses her agony through a vision of people scratching uncontrollably in Dante’s Inferno Circle 8. Judith, her daughter, recounts the nursing home’s unavailing efforts at solving the problem. In the epilogue, a junior doctor describes visiting the scene in the home and finally declaring the scabies outbreak over, allowing the spell of itching to be broken at last. Created through a workshop between Prof Jackie Cassell, BSMS Department of Primary Care and Public Health Medicine, Prof Ed Hughes, Professor of Composition in Music, Sussex University, and professional and amateur musicians with personal experience and knowledge of local costal town care homes, dementia, and scabies at the end of life. Read more here:

Feature: The Agony of the Night (2022), Director: Eyerusalem Kassahun, Director of Photography: Billy Mekonenen, Amharic, with English subtitles, Ethiopia. 40 minutes

Synopsis: The Agony of the Night tells the stories of people affected by scabies in Gojam, Amhara Region, Ethiopia, through personal anecdotes of farmers’ and religious students’ sufferings and marginalisation, as well as depictions of the voices of inquires about long-term solutions of the clinical and social aspects of scabies. The Director, Eyerusalem Kassahun, is an independent Ethiopian filmmaker, and teaches at the School of Theatre Arts at Addis Ababa University. She directed the romantic comedy Trafiqua (Traffic Cop) and is a scholar of women’s participation in Ethiopia’s film industry. This film has been created in collaboration with Ethiopian social scientists who explore people’s daily experiences of scabies as part of the Social Science for Stigmatising Skin Diseases Foundation, a partnership programme between academic institutions in Ethiopia, Sudan, Rwanda, and UK.

Who’s leading the event?

Gem Aellah, Anthropologist at the Social Science for Stigmatising Skin Diseases project, BSMS

Jo Middleton, Disease Ecologist at BSMS

Jackie Cassell, Prof of Primary Care and Public Health Medicine, BSMS

Esther Garibay, Communications Research Manager at BSMS

Eyerusalem Kassahun Ayele, independent filmmaker, and public engagement officer for 5S, Ethiopia

Dereje Wonde, sociologist, 5S, Ethiopia, at the Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (OSSREA) Ethiopia. PhD Fellow at BSMS

Addisu Tesegaye, sociologist, 5S, Ethiopia at the Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (OSSREA) Ethiopia. PhD Fellow at BSMS

Dr Ursin Bayisenge, anthropologist and medical doctor, 5S Rwanda:  University of Rwanda, PhD Fellow at BSMS.

Dr Hala E Malik, anthropologist and psychiatrist, 5S Sudan: University Khartoum, PhD Fellow at BSMS.

Open to

Anyone age 12+ is welcome (due to the rating of the film)

Of particular interest to

This film is for anyone interested in art house film and those interested in filmmaking; opera fans; fans of Ethiopian cinema, those with an interest in scabies; health professionals, or volunteers working locally; anyone interested anthropology, in public and global health, or with experiences of scabies.

Event Booking details

Free but advance tickets should be booked. ‘Walk-ins’ accepted on the day, subject to availability.

The venue has seating on a raked tier, plus permanent space for two wheelchairs. Additional wheelchair spaces can be added to the front row with advance request.The auditorium has an integrated induction-loop system. Films have English subtitles.