Thursday, June 16, 2016

Fuocoammare / Fire at Sea

Seefeuer / Bortom Lampedusa
IT/FR 2016
Ohjaus/Director: Gianfranco Rosi
Käsikirjoitus/Screenplay: Gianfranco Rosi, Carla Cattani (idea)
Kuvaus/Cinematography: Gianfranco Rosi
Leikkaus/Editing: Jacopo Quadri
Ääni/Sound: Stefano Grosso, Vladan Nedeljkov, Giancarlo Rutigliano, Aleksandra Stojanovic
Featuring: Samuele Caruana, Giuseppe Fragapane, Pietro Bartolo, Maria Costa, Francesco Mannino, Maria Signorello, Samuele Pucillo (as themselves)
Tuotanto/Production: Stemal Entertainment, 21 Unofilm, Cinecittà Luce, Rai Cinema, Les Films d'Ici, Arte France Cinéma
Tuottajat/Producers: Gianfranco Rosi, Donatella Palermo
Esityskopio/Print Source: Doc & Film International
Esitysformaatti/Format: DCP
Kieli/Language: englanti/English, italia/Italian
Tekstitys/Subtitles: englanti/English
108 min
    M: no original score but a beautiful soundtrack based on selections of a radio DJ of a request radio program with Sicilian popular songs and an opera number by Rossini. The title of the film is from one of those songs.
    English subtitles by Susan Adler.
    Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Sodankylä.
    In the presence of Gianfranco Rosi, introduced by Timo Malmi.
    Cinema Lapinsuu, 16 June 2016

Timo Malmi in the MSFF catalogue: "It is not common that everybody seems to agree that The Golden Bear award of Berlin International Film Festival went to the right address this year when it was given to Gianfranco Rosi for Fire at Sea, a stirring movie about today´s most current theme in Europe – the immigration issue."

"It is exceptional that a documentary wins the Golden Bear. Rosi manages to turn a topic that has been worn out by television reporting into a captivating and humane story. Rosi accomplishes this by familiarizing well with the 13 year old Samuele and his home village by spending few years there."

"The journey begins on Lampedusa Island, in the southernmost point of Italy – closer to Africa than Sicily, where thousands of migrants stop by on their way to Europe of their dreams. There, instead of attending school Samuele prefers to spend his time on the beaches and mountains."

"The paths of two peoples from two very different worlds do not seem to cross each other even though a Lampedusan doctor gives a touching speech about our duties and the immigrants become almost as familiar to us as the locals. Wild rescue operations and shocking destinies are seen during the movie, but what we remember in the end is Rosi´s holistic picture about the state of affairs."

AA: One of the key films of the year, Fuocoammare is one of the greatest cinematic interpretations of the Mediterranian immigration tragedy that has been going on for decades and that has truly exploded recently. Gianfranco Rosi confronts the dilemma of documentary ethics (one should not exploit defenseless people) in a humanistic way. His approach is the opposite of exploitation and sensationalism. We see shocking images because we need to be shocked to an awareness of a terrible reality. Rosi's approach is responsible like that of the good doctor of the island. We need to know about the illness in order to cure it.

The nine year old boy Samuele becomes our main conduit, identification figure, providing a child's viewpoint on life on Lampedusa. We follow also other persons' normal life on the island. The islanders have been aware of the tragedy from the start, but the immigrants are not a part of the daily fabric of life on the island.

We spend time on a Cigala Fulgosi category sea patrol ship near the African sea border and witness the reality, the horror there with overcrowded vessels carrying refugees, immigrants. The third major locus is the Lampedusa detention center. A fourth central space is the doctor's office. Dr. Bartolo becomes our second key identification figure, providing the long perspective from an adult viewpoint. He has seen this happening for decades.

The refugees arrive from Somalia, Côte d'Ivoire, Libya, Sudan. We hear nightmarish stories of their flight through Sahara, people dying of thirst, staying in prison in Libya, being raped and killed. On the miserable rafts they suffer from dehydration and malnutrition, and the fuel leaked on the floor causes chemical burns. The ships carrying the refugees turn into death ships.

The soundtrack is provided by the radio DJ playing the listeners' favourites, mostly Sicilian popular songs. Neapolitan songs are world famous; the Sicilian songs are similar but interestingly with even more Mediterranean accents, affinities with Arabic chant and perhaps intimations of ancient Hebrew, Greek or even earlier sounds. The use of the melisma brings a magical sense to this singing. It brings thoughts to ancient tragedies at the Mediterranean, now being repeated. (I have just finished reading Virgil's Aeneid where the survivors of Troy sail via Tunisia and Sicily to Italy).

Gianfranco Rosi is a master in the contemporary rethinking of the documentary film phenomenon. Fuocoammare is a documentary film in the sense of being about reality and featuring people appearing as themselves. It is, however, not about reality caught on the spot, unawares. The cast of characters and the mise-en-scène seem to have been meticulously planned. The characters appear as themselves and play the parts as themselves. While modern, Fuocoammare is also relevant to the Flaherty tradition of film-making: the film-maker becomes a part of the reality he is filming, gaining complete confidence and licence to film the intimate truth about the life lived. We get the inside story. The distinction between documentary and fiction is getting blurred. The experience of Fuocoammare is similar to fictional films of the same subject, like Emmanuele Crialese's excellent Terraferma.

The film is visually so assured that it is incredible that it was shot by the one-man crew of Gianfranco Rosi who was also the cinematographer with his Arri Amira.

P.S. 19 June 2016. Today at the Sodankylä morning discussion Gianfranco Rosi told us that nothing was planned in the shoot. Fuocoammare was a case of parthenogenesis, immaculate conception. The goddess of the documentary was with Rosi, and every time he started to shoot, exciting things took place.

On 16 June when I asked Rosi whether he felt any affinity with neorealism he denied it. Yet while digesting Fuocoammare I kept thinking about Visconti (La terra trema), Rossellini (Stromboli) and Antonioni (he started as a documentarist, there is a strong documentary impulse in L'avventura, and late in his career he made documentaries such as Ritorno a Lisca Bianca, and Noto, Mandorli, Vulcano, Stromboli, Carnevale). All three directors had a documentary impulse and a strong social consciousness.

Rosi's answers to the morning discussion's obligatory questions: 1) the first film you saw: he said that the first film that really impressed him was Antonioni's La signora senza camelie, 2) the desert island film: Buñuel's Los olvidados. His summation of a documentarist's calling was of anthology quality. I look forward to a transcript.

by Gianfranco Rosi

I went to Lampedusa for the first time in the fall of 2014 to explore the idea of shooting a 10-minute film to show at an international festival. The producers’ idea was to make a short piece, an instant movie, that would bring a different picture of Lampedusa to a lazy and complicit Europe whose sense of the burgeoning migration crisis was distorted and confused. This was true of me as well. For me, Lampedusa had long been just a snarl of voices and images generated by TV spots and shocking headlines about death, emergencies, invasions, and populist uprisings. Once on the island, however, I discovered a reality that was far removed from that found in the media and the political narrative, and I realized that it would be impossible to compress a universe as complex as Lampedusa into just a few minutes. Understanding it would require complete and prolonged immersion. It wouldn’t be easy. I knew I would have to find a way in.

Then, as is often the case in documentary filmmaking, the unpredictable happened. I went to the local emergency room with a nasty case of bronchitis and met Dr. Pietro Bartolo, who I learned was the only doctor on the island and had been present at every landing of rescued migrants for the last thirty years. It was he that determines who is sent to the hospital, who goes to the detention center, and who is deceased.

Not knowing I was a director looking for a possible story, Dr. Bartolo told me of his experiences in medical and humanitarian emergencies. What he said, and the words he used, deeply affected me. A mutual understanding developed between us, and I realized he was someone who could become a character in the film. After an hour and a half of intense discussion, the doctor turned on his computer to show me images, heartrending and never shown before, so that I could “touch with my hand” the reality of the migrant tragedy. At that moment I knew I had to transform the 10-minute short I’d been sent to shoot into my new film.

After setting up production for the project, I moved to Lampedusa and rented a little house in the old port where I stayed until the last moment I needed it. I wanted to tell the story of this tragedy through the eyes of the islanders, whose way of seeing and hearing things, and living, had undergone a massive change over the past 20 years.

Thanks to the help of Peppino, a guardian angel of the island who later became my assistant director, I gradually came into contact with the locals and came to know their rhythms, their daily life, their way of seeing things. And as had happened with Dr. Bartolo, I had another fundamental encounter, with Samuele, a 9-year-old boy and son of a fisherman, who won me over. I realized that through his clear and ingenuous eyes I could tell the story of the island and its inhabitants with greater freedom. I followed him as he played, with his friends, at school, at home with his grandmother and on the boat with his uncle. Samuele allowed me to see the island differently and with a clarity that I had not known before, and through him other characters were gradually introduced into the film, one after another.

My decision to move to Lampedusa changed everything. In my year on the island I weathered the long winter and then the sea-going months, and I came to know the true rhythm of the flood of migrants. It was necessary to go beyond the media’s habit of rushing to Lampedusa only when there is an emergency. Living there I realized that the term emergency is meaningless. Every day there is an emergency. Every day something happens. To grasp a real sense of the tragedy you need to be not only close, but to have ongoing contact. Only in this way was I able to better understand the feelings of the islanders, who had been watching this tragedy repeat itself for twenty years.

After the inauguration of rescue operations like Mare Nostrum, which tries to intercept boats at sea, migrants are no longer seen on Lampedusa. They pass through like phantoms. They are unloaded on a wharf in the old port, bussed to the detention center for assistance and identification, and a few days later dispatched to the mainland. As with the landings, of which I filmed dozens, the only way to understand the detention center is to go in and see it up close. It is very difficult to shoot inside one, but thanks to the permit I obtained from the Sicilian authorities, I was able to show the center, its rhythms and rules, its guests and customs, its religions and its tragedies. A world within a world, sealed off from the daily life of the island. The greatest challenge was finding a way to film this universe that could convey a sense not only of truth and reality but also of the humanity within.

However, I soon realized that the border - which had once been Lampedusa itself, when the boats still landed right on the island - had moved out to sea. I asked permission to board an Italian naval vessel operating off the African coast and I spent about a month on the Cigala Fulgosi as it took part in two missions. There, too, I learned the rhythms, rules and customs of life on board until we ran into tragedies, one after another. The experience of filming these cannot be described here.

In my films I have often found myself depicting circumscribed worlds, whether literally or ideally so. These universes, at times as small as a room, have their own logic and internal movements. To capture and convey them is the most complicated part of my job. So it was with the community of dropouts in the American desert (Below Sea Level), an isolated world with its own rules where the border was one’s affiliation with an idea, or one’s condition. So it was with the narco-assassin turned informer, holed up in a motel room, re-enacting his crimes and explaining the rules of his criminal community (El Sicario). The same can be said for that other human community that lives on the margins of the ring road around Rome (Sacro GRA). So, in Lampedusa, I found myself understanding the workings, if I can call it that, of another set of concentric worlds, with their own rules and their own sense of time: the island, the detention center, the Cigala Fulgosi.

It is impossible to leave Lampedusa, just as it is impossible to pinpoint the moment when filming is complete. If this is true for all my films it is especially so for this one. One incident made me realize that the circle was somehow closing. Because it was after meeting Dr. Bartolo that I decided to make this film on Lampedusa, to close the film I felt it was necessary to return to that encounter. I went to see Bartolo, but with a camera this time, which I turned on to film his testimony, his story. And as before, looking into the screen of his computer where his archive of twenty years of rescues is stored, Bartolo, with his immense humanity, and serenity, was able to communicate the magnitude of the tragedy, and the duty to offer assistance and shelter. Exactly what was needed to close the film. (Gianfranco Rosi, Fuocoammare press kit, 2016)

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