'Fire at Sea' by Gian Franco Rosi goes deep beneath the surface

By Moira Sullivan

Gian Franco Rosi told me that the US does not show his films. Now they have. "Fire at Sea" was screened at the Mill Valley Film Festival in October and the Short Story Doc festival here in San Francisco. It won the Golden Bear at the 2016 Berlinale Film Festival, and is Italy's Official Submission for the Foreign Language Oscar at the 89th Academy Awards, already one of 15 contenders. Rosi took home the Golden Lion at Venice in 2013 for his film about the periphery highway around Rome called "Sacro Gra" where migrant communities live. The same provocative film style with Rosi behind the camera is used for "Fire at Sea", a documentary about a small island near Sicily, Lampedusa, that receives refugees that have voyaged primarily from Sub Saharan Africa risking life and limb. The way they are received by the villagers is important. The Eritrean born Italian who went to film school in New York at NYU shows some of the villagers such as 12-year-old Samuele and his family to make this a very personal film. "Fire at Sea" is made without traditional interviews but creating a story out of the conditions of the refugees at Lampedusa and the villagers on the island.  The picture language is both engaging and contemplative.

Rosi said he at first was only going to film a 10 minute story of Lampedusa until he met the island’s doctor Dr. Pietro Bartolo, who certifies deaths , and provides treatment to survivors, and he realized that the situation was larger in scope. He spent more than a year on the island, speaking with villagers about how the migrants seeking refuge has affected them. Today, they are intercepted by a boat called Mare Nostrum and never make it to Lampedusa proper, only its old port and then they are bussed to detention centers on the mainland.

Amnesty International has reported on the growing death toll of refugees crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa from Eritrea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria and primarily Syria. They report about the increasing use of negligent rubber dinghies that smugglers transport refugees in and the smell of oil on the survivors that reach shore. The day before I interviewed Gian Franco Rosi in early November there was a news report in the San Francisco Chronicle about the 31 survivors of two shipwrecks that reached Lampedusa with over 250 fatalities. Last year, the International Organization for Migration reported 3,777 dead crossing the Mediterranean. Rosi said that the figure was only half of the deaths this year or more - those we don’t know about could increase the total.

 "Fire at Sea" moves us about an issue that concerns us. The example of Lampedusa that reaches out its hand to help these tragic victims of a war not their making in their countries should inspire those who think that a wall between Mexico and the US is a solution to prevent migratory refugees from seeking humanitarian rescue and protection. Here now is Gian Franco Rosi in an exclusive interview with Movie Magazine International.

© 2016 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 12/07/16
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