2017 Oscar Nominee - Best Documentary

Fire at Sea

Director: Gianfranco Rosi

Released: 2016

View on: iTunes, Amazon Prime

*Note: This post is part of a series I am writing on the 2017 Oscar nominees for best documentary.

Let me premise this by saying that while the story this documentary tells is very important, the film itself is very slow. It took me three sittings to finally finish it because I couldn’t stay awake, which is really too bad because the issue this film is highlighting is very important. Fire at Sea tells the story of migrants, mostly from various countries in Africa, who get crammed into boats and sent across the sea to try to make it to Europe. Their story is juxtaposed with that of some of the people living on a small Sicilian island where many of the migrants are brought.

The migrants pay smugglers for passage on a boat that is crammed with as many as 1500 people. One of the Sicilian rescuers explains in the documentary that the migrants are placed on the boat based on “classes.” A first class spot costs $1500 and gets you a spot on the boat deck near the front. A second class spot also gets you a boat deck spot, but further back on the boat, and costs $1200. A third class spot costs $800 and gets you into the hull of the boat. Individuals in the hull are particularly at risk and it’s not uncommon for multiple people in the hull to die during the voyage due to the poor air circulation.

The people living in on the island lead quiet lives. A young boy spends his time playing with a sling, learning to row a boat, studying, and spending time with his family. His father is a fisherman, he sometimes the boy goes with him on his boat. A doctor does his best to treat both the island dwellers and the migrants who come in. He is portrayed the young boy for a “lazy eye”, and treating a pregnant migrant woman whose pregnancy is risky due to the harsh conditions she lived in and the difficult journey she took to get to the island.

The migrants come from countries like Syria, Niger, and Eritrea. Their journey across the Mediterranean takes up to 7 days, and they get dehydrated. People in the hull often get soaked in a combination of sea water and gas, which burns their skin pretty badly. When the Sicilian rescue ships come to get people off the boats, they bring them few by few, pulling those with the most medical need off the boat first. Once the ship docks, the migrants are put on a bus and taken to a facility while they are processed through they system. The facility isn’t comfortable by my standards, but it sure looks a lot more comfortable than a crowded boat where people are dying, and I’m positive it’s more comfortable than where these individuals came from.

You don’t go through such a harrowing journey if what you’re leaving isn’t horrible.

So what can you do? Like the ideas I provided in the post on documentary short 4.1 Miles, I suggest checking out the work of the International Rescue Committee. Consider donating to them, and look at their “how to help” section. Also, consider helping a refugee relocation agency in your local community. Some of these migrants are bound to be resettled in places other than Europe, and until the President’s recent executive orders it seems to me that some would likely come to the U.S. In Texas, we have a great organization called Refugee Services of Texas that helps to resettle refugees, providing them with assistance in setting up a home and getting settled in their new land, where everything is new.


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