Gianfranco Rosi’s incisive, poignant and deeply moving portrait of the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, and the humanitarian crisis occurring in the seas around it, is both a masterly work of documentary filmmaking and a timely call for urgent action. Situated 150 miles south of Sicily, Lampedusa has hit headlines as the first port of call for hundreds of thousands of African and Middle Eastern refugees hoping to make a new life in Europe.
After spending months living on the island and engaging with its inhabitants, Rosi accumulated an incredible array of footage, portraying the history, culture and daily lives of the islanders. Focusing on 12-year-old Samuele, as he explores the land and attempts to gain mastery of the sea, the film slowly builds a breathtakingly naturalistic portrait of the Lampedusan people and the events that surround them. The result is a lyrical, poetic and searingly powerful documentary that casts neither judgement nor aspersions, but simply shows the world to the viewer, to utterly devastating effect.
One can’t fail to be moved by the sheer resilience of these migrants, yet at the same time it’s very clear how far removed their experiences are from the daily lives of most Western viewers. Rosi has absolute respect for his subjects, even when we see them here at their most vulnerable, in states of physical and emotional disarray, and he makes no pretence that pointing a camera at them will magically allow us to bridge that gulf of consciousness between them and us. Overall, Fire at Sea is a genuine triumph for Rosi. It may not grab you by the lapels and preach to you, but its quiet intensity ultimately offers more satisfying rewards, exquisitely enhanced by Rosi’s painterly eye for Lampedusa’s magical vistas of land and sea.
Fire At Sea won the Golden Bear best picture award at the Berlin Film Festival in February. Click below for reviews and more information.
Venue: William Loveless Hall