“In the past 20 years, 400,000 migrants have landed on Lampedusa. In the attempt to cross the Strait of Sicily to reach Europe, it is estimated that 15,000 people have died.” These words appear onscreen at the start of Fire at Sea, the winner of the Golden Bear at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival in 2016.
We are shown two utterly separate worlds. The activities of several local people are combined to form a mosaic of everyday life on this tiny Italian island: a woman prepares lunch, the DJ at the local radio station broadcasts a music request show, a man dives for sea urchins. The most important of these islander figures is 12-year-old Samuele: he has to go to school and learn English, but he’d much rather be out with his catapult, shooting at birds.
It’s difficult to imagine a starker contrast than between these everyday scenes and the dire needs of the African boat refugees. Our guide in this world is Dr. Bartolo, who shows us the horrors taking place from the moment they are picked out of the sea to their arrival at the refugee camp. These images underscore his appeal for more humane treatment.