Fire at Sea (Gianfranco Rosi, 2016) Italy

Reviewed by Alicia Huhn at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2017.

The film making in this movie is exceptional because right from the beginning you can see how without saying a word so much is being told about the peaceful landscape of the simple life of a little Italian boy. He is playing peacefully by the seashore.  It feels more like a fictional movie or one would hope it is all fictional.  But it is real.  This is a documentary.  The boy is not to be dislike or disdained for his privilege, nor does he or anyone in his family seem inherently evil or cold hearted.  They live a beautiful simple life, while out on the water hundreds of refugees from Africa are rescued by volunteers and barely make it to shore with breath still in them.  The doctor is the one who makes clear the true sentiment of the film. He is anguished.  How can one man make a difference or change such an enormous atrocity?  It is too much for him to bear. Yet how can any one man turn his back?  We all do everyday in some form or fashion. The doctor lives a good life but even his power to heal cannot stop the flood of dying refugees flooding the banks of the most southern Italian island of Lampedusa. The African refugees cry and pray fervently for their very lives, many are killed by soaking in water mixed with gasoline in the bilge.  The doctor describes the scene showing a picture of the boats.  These payed for first class, second class, the ones on the bottom are the first to go from suffocation.  It strikes me being new to the film festival many of the films I have seen are in the category of “hard to watch”.  There are very graphic scenes of people dying or nearly dying and yet the point is made of being so close and yet so distanced from any real form of solution.  There is nothing else for the doctor to do except continue to battle the wound infection and dehydration.  Why are we so disconnected from institutional change?  The film begs the question what now? These people are still dying just because the festival is over hasn’t stopped the massacre.  It’s like James Baldwin so aptly points to in his film of the appalling moral apathy that exists in every country particularly towards Africans.  How long must the slaughter continue?  The island is beautiful.  A fisherman or a doctor or any legal resident of this city is beautifully fortunate to live there.  The African people are fighting for their right to live. Anywhere.  They just happen to be arriving in the most southern Italian island of Lampedusa.  Every person in this world has their gifts and talents in life.  This film is not wasted on anyone.  The excellent work of the producers, editors and cinematographers are just one voice for the weak and desperate.  The doctor is another.  How we will solve all of these problems is all of our business.  What affects one must affect all or we find ourselves selfishly, unwittingly not only witness to but party to the suffering and death of many.

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