Berlinale 2016: Fire At Sea

45 minutes ago

The sound of the Mediterranean is captured by filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi. His documentary, "Fire At Sea," is set on the Sicilian Island of Lampedusa, which has become a symbol for migrant tragedies. Rosi's unusual portrayal of the island runs in this year's Berlinale competition.

"This is something Italy has been doing for the past 20 years, because Lampedusa, in this past 20 years, has passed 400,000 to 500,000 people from this tiny, tiny island."

Gianfranco Rosi talks to a small group of journalists at the Berlinale Palast:

"Being alone is very important in my work, because I can create some intimacy."

Rosi started filming "Fire At Sea" one and a half years ago. He takes his time, showing us two realities of Lampedusa: the life of the fishermen, their families, the local radio DJ, and [then] the exhaustion in the faces of migrants barely escaping death, underscored by a refrain of emergency calls to the Italian coast guard.

A still from Gianfranco Rosi's film, "Fire At Sea," showing the protagonist, Samuele Pucillo.
Credit Berlinale

His main character is a 12 year-old Lampedusa boy, Samuele. The island is his playground. His most precious possession is a self-made sling shot. Rosi also gets close to a doctor, who has examined many dead bodies over the years. In one scene, the filmmaker shows dead bodies in the trunk of a boat. 

"I always said, I don't know if I am going to use this scene. This is the scene I have to conquer in the editing. If I am not able to do that, it won't be part of my film. I think the lightness of the kid and the strength of the doctor accompany us to that moment there."

Rosi visits a refugee camp only once during the film. He documents men chanting as they celebrate their rescue from the sea.

"There was no other way to tell their story in a better way. That moment is like 20 to 30 interviews you can do. The moment has everything. It tells the tragedy of a journey from Nigeria to Lampedusa in two minutes. It's an extreme synthesis."

Director Gianfranco Rosi attends the 'Fire at Sea' (Fuocoammare) press conference during the 66th Berlinale International Film Festival Berlin.
Credit Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

"Fire At Sea" is not a political film, emphasizes Rosi, but he says as a European:

"Why don't we do a humanitarian corridor to bring people here? 500 million people can't find a location for one, two or three million people. I just hope that the film will create some awareness." 

Gianfranco Rosi is a well-known documentary filmmaker. In 2013, he was awarded the Golden Lion in Venice. Judging the attention "Fire At Sea" has already received, this year might bring him a Golden Bear.