Twelve years old Samuele lives on an island in the middle of the sea. He goes to school and shoots with his slingshot. He likes to play on the land, even though all around him smells of the sea and whispers of husbands, wives and children who sail to reach the shores of his island. This is no ordinary island. Lampedusa is the symbolic border of Europe, which is being crossed for two decades by thousands of migrants in search of freedom. Island with an area of twenty square kilometres lies seventy nautical miles from the African and one hundred and twenty from the Sicilian coast. In the last twenty years, on the shores of Lampedusa, over four hundred thousand migrants landed. It is estimated that fifteen thousand lost their lives during the dangerous voyage.
Award-winning documentarist Gianfranco Rosi spent a year on the island of Lampedusa to highlight the refugee crisis from a new perspective, through the eyes of a small island community, and warn that a humanitarian catastrophe is not instantaneous media sensation, but for many everyday reality and permanently changed way of life.
first hand account
»I first visited Lampedusa in autumn 2014 to record ten minutes long film, which would then be shown at international festivals. The desire of the producers was to create a short, urgent film that would offer a different image of Lampedusa to the lazy and introspective Europe, whose perception of the sprawling migration crisis was confused and distorted. This was also true for me. Lampedusa has long since become a vague buzzing of voices and images from television screens and shocking headlines that talked about death, distress, danger, invasions and people’s uprisings. When I arrived on the island I was greeted by a completely different reality from that of the media and political debates. I realized that such a complex world as Lampedusa can not be compressed into just a few minutes. To understand it, I had to submerge into it completely and for a long time. I knew it would not be easy. That I needed to find a way to break into this world. And then, as it often happens in documentaries, the unexpected happened. Due to a bronchitis attack I sought medical help and there I met Dr. Pietro Bartoli, the only doctor on the island, who in the last thirty years has accepted and examined every group of rescued refugees. He is the one who decides who should go to a hospital, who to detention centre for aliens and who is deceased. /…/ I once asked Pietro Bartol, why is Lampedusa such a generous place. He replied that this is an island of fishermen and fishermen never refuse what comes from the sea. Perhaps this is a lesson that all should learn. /…/ My decision to move to Lampedusa changed everything. During one year stay on the island I went through a long period of the winter and fishing and finally realized the true rhythm of the migrant floods. I had to surpass the habit of media who crowd on Lampedusa only in moment of crisis. Living there taught me that the concept of crisis situation is completely meaningless. There, the crisis is everyday reality. Every day something happens. To fully comprehend this tragedy, you have to be not only close to the situation, but in the long-term contact with it. Only in that way I could learn to understand the feelings of the islanders, who have been watching the tragedy for the last two decades. /…/ I wanted to tell the story of this tragedy through the eyes of the islanders, whose view and perception of things and the way of life changed drastically in the last twenty years. /…/ I hope this film will help with awareness that people who are dying when trying to cross the sea on the run from a tragedy is simply not acceptable.” – Gianfranco Rosi
about the author
Gianfranco Rosi was born in 1964 in Asmara, Eritrea. After studying in Italy he moved to New York in 1985 and later graduated from New York University Film school. Travelling around India has produced his first documentary film, Boatman (1993), screened at several international festivals, including Locarno, Sundance and Toronto. Featured documentary Below Sea Level (2008), shot in the Californian desert, has brought him, beside the nomination of the European Film Academy for best documentary in 2009, orizzonti prize in Venice and the grand prize at the documentary film festival Cinéma du Réel. El Sicario, room 164 (2010), a film interview with a former professional killer of a Mexican cocaine cartel, which could be seen in 2011 at Documentary festival in Ljubljana, has brought him an award of the International Association of Film Critics FIPRESCI in Venice and a prize for best film at festivals DocLisboa and DocAviv. Rosi’s next film, Sacro, became the first documentary in the history of the Venetian festival to win the Golden Lion. In February 2016 he won the Golden Bear for best film in Berlin with his film Fire at Sea.
Golden Bear for the best film on Berlinale, Berlin, Germany, 2016.