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Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare)

Modern Masters

/ Feature Documentary / Italy, France / 2016 / Colour
In English, Italian / Arabic, English subtitles
MENA Premiere
Rated: Mature subject matter. Not suitable for minors. Individuals under the age of 18 are not admitted into cinemas.

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The tiny Italian island of Lampedusa lies in the Mediterranean Sea, about halfway between the east coast of Tunisia and the island of Malta. Lampedusa’s official population is just over 6,000; over the past two decades, approximately 400,000 migrants have landed here en route from Africa to Europe. Estimates fix the number of those who have died trying to make this perilous sea crossing during that period at 15,000.

Director Gianfranco Rosi’s camera observes the parallel lives of Lampedusa’s inhabitants – among them Samuele, a charismatic and mischievous 12-year-old boy struggling with a lazy eye; and the island’s only doctor, whose tasks include treating migrants rescued from capsized transport vessels – and those who have made it this far in their quest to find a better life on the European continent.

While the Golden Bear-winning film has wonderful moments of lightness – Samuele’s visit to a doctor complaining of breathing problems is a delight – the forbidding dark shadow of the contemporary migration crisis hangs heavy as the viewer is presented with deeply troubling images of suffering that will not soon be forgotten. Necessary and urgent, in the words of Berlinale jury president Meryl Streep, ‘Fire at Sea’ “demands its place in front of our eyes and compels our engagement and action.”

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