A film debuted at the 2016 Berlin film festival shows the bodies of migrants so tightly packed in the hold of a boat that they died of asphyxiation within hours of starting their voyage across the Mediterranean.
Director Gianfranco Rosi’s says his two-hour documentary film “Fuocoammare” (Fire at Sea) “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,” he said at a post-screening news conference.
The film is centred on the Italian island of Lampedusa which has been a popular destination for refugees. Rosi spent months living on the Mediterranean island, capturing its everyday life as hundreds of migrants arrived on a weekly basis.
One of the main characters is a doctor on the island, Pietro Bartolo, who checks for vital signs amongst the arriving migrants. “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,” Bartolo said at the press conference.
“These things really leave you with a great big empty hole in your stomach, with a dreadful feeling. And it’s really awful to look at this, and these are really nightmares that haunt me very often.”
Bartolo said he’d been interviewed by almost all TV channels around the world. He said it has been difficult for him to talk about what he has witnessed. “Every time I have to talk about this I feel dreadful. I don’t want to talk about it but I do because at the end of the day I hope that, just as I do with this film by the maestro Gianfranco Rosi, we’ll get the message across, that these newspaper articles, this film will raise people’s awareness and raise the awareness of those who can do more than us.”
Samuele is twelve and lives on an island in the Mediterranean, far away from the mainland. Like all boys of his age he does not always enjoy going to school. He would much rather climb the rocks by the shore, play with his slingshot or mooch about the port.
But his home is not like other islands. For years, it has been the destination of men, women and children trying to make the crossing from Africa in boats that are far too small and decrepit. The island is Lampedusa which has become a metaphor for the flight of refugees to Europe, the hopes, hardship and fate of hundreds of thousands of emigrants.
These people long for peace, freedom and happiness and yet so often only their dead bodies are pulled out of the water. Thus, every day the inhabitants of Lampedusa are bearing witness to the greatest humanitarian tragedy of our times.
Gianfranco Rosi’s observations of everyday life bring us closer to this place that is as real as it is symbolic, and to the emotional world of some of its inhabitants who are exposed to a permanent state of emergency.
At the same time his film, which is commentary-free, describes how, even in the smallest of places, two worlds barely touch.
The trailer is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRPBH3LC4aU