By Joshua Paul
Fire At Sea Dir: Gianfranco Rosi | Italy
Fire At Sea hit me like a ton of bricks when I saw it. This quiet film is subtle and understated for most of its runtime - it is shot on Lampedusa, a small island off the coast of Sicily, where most people are fisherman. Periodically, the dependable routines of the villagers are interrupted by boats packed with refugees drifting off shore - a result of the European Migrant Crisis of 2015. Government officials work overtime to take in these boats; distributing blankets and food, administering health care where necessary, and moving the people into a refugee camp.
Primarily, we follow a young boy living on the island. His dad dives for fish. His mum cooks at home. He and his friend shoot slingshots at cacti. He tells the doctor he is more sick than he is. The doctor shows the cameraman pictures of some migrants he has treated. The local radio operator converses with drifting ships, and relays their position to the coastguard. The coastguard scrambles helicopters and speed boats.
Director Gianfranco Rosi shoots with such a careful eye for humanity. The film usually operates on long takes of beautiful stationary shots. A helicopter preparing for take off. A pier full of boats bobbing on the water. A radio console. Our young boy carving a slingshot. The film is strung together with these poignant vignettes that powerfully convey the raw and real circumstances people find themselves in. You can't help but feel empathy as the film unfolds.
At some point in the film, the juxtaposition just clicked with me - the simple stable lives of the villagers contrasted with the desperation and tragedy of the migrants' plight - all the frantic activity to bring survivors aboard while back at home a woman silently changes the sheets in the guest room.
Fire At Sea screened at Stronger Than Fiction in 2016. It is available on DVD or iTunes.