The Current

'Death is not easy to film': Documentary's unflinching look into Mediterranean migrant crisis

The tiny Italian island of Lampedusa has been thrust into the centre of Europe's migration crisis. Now a new bold documentary shows us a year in the life of the island - for its residents, migrants passing through and those trying to make a difference.
The documentary Fire at Sea introduces 12-year-old schoolboy Samuele who lives in Lampedusa. He suffers from hyperventilation and anxiety. (Fuoccamare (Fire at Sea) film 2016)

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Some 100 kilometres off the coast of Africa lies the Italian island of Lampedusa. This tiny slice of land, with a population of just over 6,000, has been a beacon for sailors since ancient times.

Today it is ground zero for migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Over the past 20 years, more than 400,000 migrants have arrived at its shores.  Thousands have perished trying to reach it.

Fuocoammare, or Fire at Sea, is a new documentary that just had its Canadian premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film contrasts the lives of the residents of Lampedusa and the migrants passing through.

"We forget very often that these [migrants] are people, not just numbers," Fire at Sea director Gianfranco Rosi tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

The acclaimed Italian filmmaker spent a year and a half in Lampedusa documenting the tragedy of the migrant crisis and the everyday lives of the islanders. He shares his experience with Tremonti on what it was like bearing witness to a humanitarian disaster.

"When I encountered death one day in the middle of the sea, and we found out that under this boat there were 50 people that died... I decided to include this piece of film, this moment of tragedy in my film, which was a very hard decision you know, to show death is not easy to film."

Fire at Sea opens at the Toronto TIFF Bell Lightbox on Oct. 21, 2016.

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Lara O'Brien.