At the beginning of Gianfranco Rosi’s documentary Fire at sea, we ear a chilling distress call . One man urgently pleads to a navy dispatcher to come to save their sinking boat.
Dispatcher: How many people? How many people?
Dispatcher: Your position.
Caller: Please, we beg you, please help us.
Dispatcher: Your position. […] Your position. (No answer. Silence.)
We later learn that this boat and the 150 migrants aboard were never found. Fire at sea was filmed on and around the Italian island of Lampedusa. The island is situated between Sicily and the coast of North Africa. That is why Lampedusa has become a landing point for migrants coming from Syria, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and others. Throughout the film we witness small boats full of people being rescued at sea. Some are so dehydrated that they are barely alive. We see Nigerians holding a prayer chants session about their release from the grips of ISIS. Others play a game of soccer. Unusually, Rosi cuts back and forth between those migrants, and the daily lives of several inhabitants of Lampedusa. The film centres on Samuele, a talkative 12-year-old boy, and his family. Fire at sea is observational, without narrations or interviews. It shows Samuele making himself a slingshot, shooting targets with a friend. He goes fishing with his grandfather, and gets seasick. We also meet Samuele’s grandmother, who likes to cook as she listen to her favourite songs on the radio. Doctor Pietro Bartolo, who treats some of the migrants when they arrive, has seen many casualties. I was troubled by the human suffering Rosi shows us. And I was also touched by young Samuele. Although Fire at sea is a nonlinear documentary, Rosi still manages to establish a captivating rhythm and make it haunting and compelling. Not to be ignored are the beautiful images of Lampedusa, provided by Rosi, who acts as his own cinematographer.
And the Oscar went to… Fire at sea lost the Documentary (Feature) to the 7 hours O.J : Made in America.
Fire at sea (Fuocammare)
Rated Parental Guidance.
In English and Italian with English subtitles.