Fire at Sea

The refugee crisis, as viewed from the Mediterranean island where thousands of migrants have died.

Unimaginable horror surrounds us every day, but most are lucky enough not to witness it directly. And then there are the villagers of Gianfranco Rosi’s documentary Fire at Sea, who live on the Italian island of Lampedusa, 70 miles from the coast of Africa. It’s notable as being the first stop for some 400,000 migrants who’ve fled to Europe over the past 20 years, 15,000 of whom have died on the 7.8-square-mile island. (For perspective, San Francisco is less than 47 square miles.) The main figure is Samuele, a 12-year-old native seen going about his business, practicing his slingshot on the unfortunate local cacti and pretending to shoot boats (as is the violent wont of many 12-year-old boys). The humanitarian crisis is beyond his ken, but it’s very much on the minds of the adults in his life; the latest deaths are reported on the radio by his mother’s favorite DJ, while Samuele’s doctor also does what he can to help the many sick and dying migrants, because “it’s the duty of every human being to do so.” (Word.) Fire at Sea meditates on how life can go on even with a front-row seat to unspeakable misery and injustice. After all, someone still has to make the pasta and take listener requests.

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