Culture, Film, History
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“Fire at Sea”: the italian take on the refugee crisis

“Fire at Sea” (Fuocoammare) by Gianfranco Rosi is the italian film chosen to compete for Best Foreign Language film at the Academy Awards: it’s a brave choice taken by a selected few at the Italian National Film Industry Commission (ANICA). Easier stories could have been picked from the shortlisted ones, but the elitist group of people representing the various branches of the industry decided to stick their necks out for a cause.

The cause is a humanitarian and historical one: “Fire at Sea” tells the true story of unimaginable journeys to escape foreign bombs and survive thirst, now, in our highly-civilized, super-progressive and hyper-connected 2016. The choice has received large support by the italian public opinion (#fuocoammare), Italian PM Matteo Renzi was proud and national television screened it on October 3rd: Italy being represented by Fuocoammare for the Oscar competition is a choice seen like a patriotic support to what italian nationals are doing to save lives in the tiny mediterranean island of Lampedusa in Sicily.

In fact Italy is the only country to have a National Day to Remember the Victims of Migrations and rise consciousness on Hospitality, and it’s October 3rd: in 2016 we have celebrated the first since the Lampedusa-experience driven idea became state law. The date is chosen in memory of October 3rd, 2013 when two rogue individuals making money on displaced people had the brilliant idea to set fire to attract the coastguards’ attention on a boat giving the Lybia-Italy ride to almost 400 desperate persons stacked like a herd in it. 368 people died, burnt and drowned. Among the first persons to see the tragedy happening at dawn was Costantino Baratta a local builder who quickly grabbed a bunch of mates and his own small fishing boat to rescue the victims of the shipwreck. His eyes shine with tears when he recalls the story in the documentary Lontano dagli Occhi: his bitterness is only for not having been there earlier. Fishermen, house working women, common inhabitants of Lampedusa would then be the first ones involved with hospitality and care to feed starving survivors: men, women (sometimes pregnant) and children.

Slow and relentless like the endless human flow moving from the African coast to the European one on frail rescue boats, Fuocoammare has the pace of the inner take these everyday italian heroes have taught to the filmmaker. Gianfranco Rosi spent a year in the island of Lampedusa to be able to represent the reality of everyday mundane aspects of dealing with migrants’ lives and deaths. Is this sense Fuocoammare is the italian take on the refugees’ crisis; its slow start is an invitation to the viewer to connect with an inner real-life time, the one any human being needs to adapt and deal with big changes. So take your time when planning to see it, it’s not a James Bond movie!

A young boy, Samuele, with a lazy eye and unknown causes of pediatric anxiety leads the story in a subtle way: there is laziness in the western world to solve the problem, and probably this is not the best way to build our childrens’ future. Anxiety is a common problem in wealthy societies and there is often no apparent material cause to it. Samuele’s medical treatment – blanking out one eye – is a mirror of our own shortsightedness: denying reality will not make our own lives happier, and this is the story told in “Fire at Sea”.

“Save your battery, I will call you back” is one othe first lines we hear after long panoramic shots describing the basic simplicity of life in Lampedusa. It’s an Italian Marines’ Officer (Marina Militare Italiana) speaking to a desperate sounding woman’s voice telling rescue coordinates in a rough English. Some critics have argued it’s a documentary: but it isn’t. It’s a carefully shot, framed and edited story where the filmmaker has the guts to turn real people into actors of themselves.

In an ultimate way, Rosi’s depiction of the doctor visiting the young boy in between an emergency rescue call and another is the take of a wise man looking at someone who cannot figure the bigger picture out. Maybe like Italy looking at european neighbors rising walls to cut themselves out, at least from a brickly point of view.

It’s blatant that currently there is no strong common political will of finding solutions to the refugees and migrants crisis and the Mediterranean sea bottom is turning into a mass grave. Apart from a bunch of Noble peace prize deserving individuals in Sicily, trying their best to save lives, record deaths for friends and families, build cemeteries to give decent burials to other human beings no one is really doing anything to confront the situation and give help.

Like creating humanitarian corridors for example, or giving asylum and dignity through selected work permits to survivors: just for the time war and conflict issues are solved between western democracies and the rest of the world.

In fact what more than italian traditional filmmaking, what more than neo-realistic awareness can turn the everyday into a film? And what else than a movie could be able to take some of our busy daily time to stop and think about what’s going on in the world out there?  

We can’t deny the presence of fire at sea.

Melissa Pignatelli

Fuocoammare-Fire at Sea, Italy, 2016fire-at-sea-fuocoammare-review-oscar-2016-academy-awards-fil-cinema-entertainment

Director: Gianfranco Rosi
Executive Producer: Donatella Palermo
Producer: Donatella Palermo, Gianfranco Rosi, Roberto Cicutto, Paolo Del Brocco, Serge Lalou, Camille Laemlé, Martine Saada, Olivier Père
Cinematographer: Gianfranco Rosi
Cast: Samuele Pucillo, Mattias Cucina, Samuele Caruana, Pietro Bartolo, Giuseppe Fragapane, Maria Signorello, Francesco Paterna, Francesco Mannino, Maria Costa

Suggested links (retrieved on  October 5th, 2016):

Fuocoammare-Fire at Sea: Official trailer 

Fuocoammare-Fire at Sea, Golden Bear at 66th Berlin Film Festival, 2016

Protect People not Borders: the project and the Committee #ProtectPeopleNotBorders

Italian Navy and the Management of Migration Flows

Fuocoammare-Fire at Sea, The Guardian review

Fire at Sea on Italian TV, Ansa news agency 

Fire at Sea at Toronto Film Festival, Tiff


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