Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare), directed by Italian Gianfranco Rosi, provides an unflinching look at the thousands of desperate people who arrive on the island each year trying to enter the European Union – and the thousands more who have died trying.
But Rosi, who spent several months on Lampedusa making the documentary, also offers a tender portrait of the rhythms of daily life in Lampedusa’s ancient fishing villages and the efforts of local people to help those in need.
The picture is told through the eyes of a 12-year-old local boy, Samuele Pucillo, and the island’s doctor, Pietro Bartolo, who has been tending to the often dehydrated, malnourished and traumatized new arrivals for a quarter-century.
Bartolo said that he hoped the film would open more Europeans’ eyes to the plight visible in Lampedusa every day, as the political debate grows more entrenched.
“I’ve seen so many terrible things, so many dead children, so many dead women, so many raped women. These things leave you with a great big empty hole in your stomach,” he said.
“These are nightmares that haunt me very often.”
The Local spoke to the doctor earlier this year, when he told us: “I don’t feel different from any other doctor. All I know is that I’m trying to do the right thing.”
Rosi also accompanied coastguard rescue missions answering the terrified SOS calls of people on overcrowded boats, most of them arriving from Libya.
The film has already won the Golden Bear – the top prize at Berlin’s Film Festival, judged by a panel including actress Meryl Streep.
The Eritrean-born Rosi dedicated the prize to its residents “who open their hearts to other peoples”.
“I hope to bring awareness,” he said as he accepted the trophy from Streep.
“It is not acceptable that people die crossing the sea trying to escape from tragedies.”