Berlinale: Fire at Sea ( Fuocoammare )

Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare)
Directed by Gianfranco Rosi

by Malin Arvidsson

400,000 migrants have reached the shores of Lampedusa in the last two decades and about 20,000 are believed to have died on their journeys.  In the documentary Fuocoammare, you learn distressing facts including that migrants can pay $800 for a lower class ticket in the hold of a boat with not enough space, not enough food and not enough to drink. Many arrive dehydrated and covered in diesel or other chemicals that burn their bodies. There’s one shot in the film where you see the hold filled with dead bodies of people that suffocated on their way. There are many depressing clips that bring you to the verge of tears.

In spite of this harrowing true story on display, there is also a lighter side to Fuocoammare which sometimes makes you smile or chuckle.  These moments occur as the film follows the lives of 12-year-old boy Samuele and other local residents of Lampedusa, the island 200km south of Italy.  Moments including Samuele going hunting with his sling shot, slurping his pasta loudly throughout dinner, trying to pronounce his English homework and hearing his English teacher’s equally strong Italian accent. You get to watch the local radio presenter as he plays songs that his listeners are requesting, as well as other locals merely going about their day to day lives. These two worlds seem so far apart and yet they happen on the same small island.

Fuocoammare gives you the feeling that you’re a fly on the wall, nobody sees you, you’re just an observer of these events. It feels very natural and both the visuals and soundscapes are technically brilliant and immersive.  “This film can be said to be political, what it really is, is that it bears witness to a tragedy that’s happening right in front of our eyes. I think that we all are responsible for that tragedy and perhaps after the holocaust it’s one of the greatest tragedies the world has ever seen,” says director Rosi.

One of the main characters in the film is the only local doctor Pietro Bartolo, who you get to see as he tries to communicate with a pregnant refugee woman as he’s examining her.  He shares feelings of how he never gets used to examining dead bodies as they come in.  He explains, “I’ve seen so very very much since ’91 when the first boats landed. I’ve seen some beautiful things but above all I’ve seen really dreadful things, so many dead children, so many dead women, so many raped women. And these things really leave you with a great big empty whole in your stomach, with a dreadful feeling.  And it’s really awful to look at this and often these are really nightmares that haunt me very often.”

Bartolo also said he’d been interviewed by “almost all TV channels around the world,” saying that it’s difficult for him to talk about what he’s witnessed but that he does it because he hopes that at the end of the day, it will get the message across – the film and his interviews will raise the awareness of people who can do more than they currently do to help this dire situation.

He added, “I don’t think a wall or barbed wire is going to stop these people. If we want to stop these people, then we have to act differently. We need to create positive situations in their own countries.  There is not one single person in the whole world who wants to leave their own homeland unless they’re forced to do so.”


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