'Fire at Sea' -- a testimony to Europe's refugee crisis on film

Portrait of refugees and Italian island
Portrait of refugees and Italian island

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Story highlights

  • Director Gianfranco Rosi turns his lens to the plight of migrants trying to reach Italian Island
  • He calls documentary "a testimony of one of the biggest crises that Europe is facing"
  • "Fire at Sea" won top prize last month at Berlin Film Festival

(CNN)We've all seen the images of boats carrying hundreds of refugees, many of whom don't make it through the perilous crossing into Europe. It's a reality that's shaking Europe to the core.

"The fact that there are countries that are closing down and building walls, for me, is a big defeat, political, moral and human," said Gianfranco Rosi, whose new documentary on the refugee crisis picked up the top prize last month at the Berlin Film Festival.
    In "Fuocoammare" or "Fire at Sea," the Italian director born in Eritrea turns his lens to the plight of migrants as they attempt to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa. While filming, he spent more than a month aboard an Italian navy ship that rescues migrants.
    "For me, it was important to show that, you know, these are people. They're not just numbers," Rosi told CNN about his intimate study of the crisis.
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    He contrasts the refugees' stories with the everyday life of the people of Lampedusa, an island of 6,000 inhabitants in the Mediterranean that has become the first point of entry into Europe for thousands of asylum seekers.
    "It's more than a portrait on the refugees. First of all, I think it's a portrait on the island of Lampedusa, on the entity of the island of Lampedusa."
    One of the documentary's protagonists is Pietro Bartolo, a local doctor who performs autopsies of migrants who don't survive the crossing, many of them women and children.
    Rosi recounted meeting Bartolo and asking him why the people of Lampedusa are so embracing of the refugees.
    "And he told me that 'Lampedusa and our people, they are fishermen. And their soul is the soul of fishermen and the fishermen always accept anything that comes from the sea.' "
    "And I thought it was a beautiful metaphor. So we all probably should try to embody the soul of fishermen and having a sense more of acceptance."
    With European leaders scrambling to find a solution to what has become the worst refugee crisis since World War II, Rosi said raising awareness with "Fire at Sea" would mean a lot.
    "Unfortunately, because of selfish political reasons, every country pretends for internal political reasons to approach and face this tragedy on their own."
    The documentary, he said, is "a testimony of one of the biggest crises that Europe is facing right now after the Holocaust."