Berlin film 'Fire at Sea' shows horror of refugee crossings

Sat Feb 13, 2016 9:08am EST
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By Michael Roddy

BERLIN (Reuters) - Images shot in the hold of a boat where dozens of people died of asphyxiation after five hours in the Mediterranean brought home the horror of the refugee crisis in the film "Fuocoammare" (Fire at Sea) shown at the Berlin film festival on Saturday.

A theme of this year's festival is to encourage the world to help and welcome refugees. Director Gianfranco Rosi's harrowing two-hour documentary, which is in competition for the top Golden Bear prize, underscores the urgency of the problem.

Rosi, whose "Sacro GRA" won the top prize at the Venice film festival in 2013, said his latest film "bears witness to a tragedy that's happening right in front of our eyes".

"I think that we all are responsible for that tragedy and perhaps after the Holocaust it's one of the greatest tragedies the world has ever seen," he said at a post-screening news conference.

The film was shot mostly on the Italian island of Lampedusa, which is only 70 miles (113 km) from North Africa and has been receiving a flood of refugees for about two decades.

It interweaves the lives of the islanders, many of whom depend on fishing for a living, with the desperate efforts of hundreds of thousands of refugees to reach Europe, hoping for a better life.

One of the main characters is Pietro Bartolo, a doctor who treats the local island population for routine ailments. His job is also to check for vital signs among the dead and seemingly lifeless people hauled from the sea or rescued from boats jammed with so many people that they are unable to breathe.

"I've seen some beautiful things but above all I've seen really dreadful things - so many dead children, so many dead women, so many raped women," Bartolo said at the press conference.   Continued...

Giuseppe Fragapane, Pietro Bartolo, director Gianfranco Rosi, Samuele Pucillo and Giuseppe del Volgo (L-R) pose during a photocall to promote the movie 'Fuocoammare' (Fire at Sea) at the 66th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany February 13, 2016. REUTERS/Stefanie Loos