Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea)
The island of Lampedusa is located 70 miles off the Libyan coast and 120 miles from Sicily and has been the site of the greatest European humanitarian crisis of our generation. 102,000 refugees passed through the island in the last year alone and many aren’t fortunate enough to survive the journey across the Mediterranean. Fuocoammare depicts life on the island in different forms: we see the refugees being rescued and then processed by government officials, we see the local radio DJs report the grim news whilst taking requests from lonely grandmothers; but the main focus of the film is 12-year-old Samuele as he frolics around the island, oblivious to the chaos in the camps.
Gianfranco Rosi’s camera (the director handled sound and camera duties himself to guarantee simple intimacy in every shot) remains a fly on the wall and avoids openly commenting or shaping the events that unfold. The footage of the refugee camps is objective, untouched by commentary or voiceover, leaving the viewer absolute freedom to interpret it as they will. The film alternates between documenting the arrival of refugees with the ebb and flow of the everyday lives of the denizens of Lampedusa. The two realities coexist but never intersect; the only time one of the locals even acknowledge the diaspora is when a wreckage is reported on the radio and an old grandmother simply laments “poor souls” as she prepares dinner. Visually, the film stays true to its cinéma vérité style; however, the main character offers moments of poetic lyricism as we witness the island through his innocent eyes as he fishes with his father, climbs trees and imagines wild stories while watching the coastguard come into the port.
The closest Rosi gets to fostering guilt in the viewer is when a local doctor details his responsibilities in the camp and the gruesome sights he has seen as so many arrive crammed in deplorable conditions without food or water. Fuocoammare is a powerful documentary experience that begs a question: if the inhabitants of Lampedusa can continue with their daily routines despite living shoulder to shoulder with the refugees, what does it take to force us to engage in this crisis?
Fuocoammare does not have a UK release date yet.
Watch the trailer for Fuocoammare here: