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FIRE AT SEA (FUOCOAMMARE) (director/writer: Gianfranco Rosi; cinematographer: Gianfranco Rosi; editor: Jacopo Quadri; music: ; cast: Pietro Bartolo, Samuele Puccilo.; Runtime: 154; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Donatella Palermo, Gianfranco Rosi, Serge Lalou, Camille Laemle, Roberto Ciccutto, Paolo Del Brocco, Martine Saada, Olivier Pere; Kino Lorber; 2016-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)
“Observant and poignant documentary.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The observant and poignant documentary by Italian filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi (“Boatman”/”Below Sea Level”) is about the flood of African and Middle-East refugees coming in boats too small and decrepit to the tiny Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, located off the coast of Sicily and Italy, to gain entry into Europe. The island is eight square miles in size and has a population of 400,000. The filmmaker kept his camera running on the island for a year to point out the current migration crisis there. It was the winner of the Golden Bear for Best Film at the Berlin Film Festival 2016. With an even-hand it examines how the tiny island responded to the emergency of thousands of black refugees coming into their white country, that also has a different culture and religion. The desperate refugees, looking for a better life, came into a bad situation where many died and many fell ill, and were never given a warm welcome by the hard-pressed locals reluctant to accept them. Rosi never clearly states the reason for this migration, though pointing out their journey to a new land is a perilous one. What this film does better than the news reports on the nightly news is depict the vexing visuals of the real life tragedy. Besides the continuous boat rescues by the Italian navy, we follow the 12-year-old Samuele, the son of a fisherman, who plays with his slingshot in the woods and climbs the rocks near the shore. On this peaceful island we also follow the thousands of refugees trying to survive in a strange land as the film juxtaposes that with the everyday lives of the locals. By tracking all the inhabitants, we gain a sense of what this migration means to everyone. We also can’t help noticing the even though this is a tiny island, the two groups barely have any interactions. The well-crafted documentary makes you an eyewitness to history that the news reports can’t do with the same sense of urgency. It also provokes thoughts for a better understanding about the refugee problem and the refugees effort to find a way out of their predicament. It also shows how this emergency deeply affects the locals.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”