Berlin director says almost could not film refugees dying at sea

Fri Feb 19, 2016 6:58am EST
 
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By Michael Roddy

BERLIN (Reuters) - Filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi said he hesitated to shoot horrific scenes of African refugees on a boat dying of suffocation and poisoning by diesel fumes in his movie "Fuocoammare" (Fire at Sea), competing in the Berlin film festival.

The images, shot off the Libyan coast, are so powerful, including shots of bodies below decks of the overloaded fishing boat, that many in the Berlin festival audience gasped during the screening.

The Eritrean-born Italian director, whose films often focus on interesting or quirky people, said he filmed for a year on the Italian island of Lampedusa, which has become a landing site for refugees due to its proximity to north Africa.

He also went out on patrol with Italian naval vessels, searching for refugee boats. On one such patrol, he came face to face with a boat crammed with hundreds of refugees, many already dead after only five hours at sea.

He said that at first he had a feeling of shame -- he used the Italian word "pudore" -- and was of two minds whether he should film what was happening.

"I said I cannot film that but there the tragedy was in front of me and I was like moving myself to try not to look at what was happening in front of my eyes," Rosi told Reuters.

"And then I say I have to show this because it's like being after the war (World War Two) in front of a gas chamber and not filming that because it was too harsh, that scene.

"These people died with the fume of the gas of the engine, and this happens every day, things like that," he said.   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