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Fire at Sea (2016)—ItalyFire at Sea (2016)—Italy

Gianfranco Rosi's strange, new movie Fire at Sea, which won the top prize at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival, tells two stories that are, by design, tragically unrelated.  The documentary film is set among the refugee crisis on Lampedusa, a tiny Italian island just eight miles square and that sits only seventy miles from the north coast of Africa.  In the last twenty years, 400,000 migrants have landed on Lampedusa, fleeing war, poverty, and ethnic strife.  About 15,000 people have died trying.  But in the first story, you would never know this.  The youngster Samuele plays with his slingshot and firecrackers, fishes with his dad, and goes to school. A disc jockey does his radio thing, a house wife does her daily chores while listening to opera on the radio.  But then there's the physician Pietro Bartolo, who treats the newly arrived refugees.  He's the voice of conscience and compassion.  In between Samuele and Bartolo are the immigrants.  The lucky ones who make it ashore with their foil blankets, dehydrated and malnourished, many with burns from diesel-soaked clothes, face a new set of problems.  They are searched, registered, photographed, processed, and, it would appear, forgotten — out of sight and mind to the islanders and the world.  They wait and hope.  Whereas questions about policy are admittedly complex, when it comes to the people he treats, Bartolo has a message for us all: "It is the duty of every human being to help these people."

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