The AFI FEST (American Film Institute) 2016 presented by Audi was held November 10 – 17th, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. The AFI FEST is the longest-running international film festival in Los Angeles. Each fall, AFI FEST presents the year’s most significant films. Kicking off the awards season each year, AFI FEST offers a crucial avenue of exposure to the entertainment community. Featuring international work from emerging filmmakers, global showcases of films from the great masters and red-carpet gala premieres, AFI FEST brings the very best of world cinema to the city of Los Angeles, the film capital of the world. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes AFI FEST as a qualifying festival for the Short Films category of the annual Academy Awards.
A film that caught my attention was a documentary film called Fire at Sea I heard being discussed on the radio station KCRW. The director Gianfranco Rosi shared how this film was shot by the perspective of a child on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa during the European migrant crisis. LaLaScoop was thrilled to be invited to this important screening November 17 shortly after learning about this powerful film, especially during a time when the humanitarian crisis is so dire and in need of action.
As part of AFI, the 12th Annual Cinema Italian Style kicked off with the American debut of Fire at Sea. The documentary exposes the shocking account of the dangerous migrants’ Mediterranean crossing blending with the ordinary life of the islanders. One of the main characters is a twelve year old boy from a local fishing family and a doctor who treats the migrants upon their arrival. Many of the people in the film are fleeing Africa because they would rather risk their lives than be killed in their own countries.
Shocking visions of many dead bodies lying atop one another on boats at sea, bodies burned badly from gasoline mixing with the seawater on their clothes, and people exhausted, dehydrated, and barely alive are the grim realities of this refugee crisis. The death toll of those who have died or disappeared crossing the Mediterranean has climbed from 15,000 to apparently 30,000 in the last year. Many metaphors ensue in this film and the message is clear. Do we accept this tragedy of death or can we help in some way?
In his acceptance speech for the Golden Bear award, Rosi stated that his intention was to heighten awareness of the migrant situation, saying, “It’s not acceptable that people die crossing the sea to escape from tragedies.” Meryl Streep was on the jury in Berlin when it won the Golden Bear award and was quoted as saying “this is an important piece of film that allows one to consider what documentary film making can do.”
What is so moving about this film is the willingness of the people on the fishing island to accept and help these refugees, who are near death. Since the film has aired, no longer can refugees flee to the island of Lampedusa because the boats are now snagged due to a border patrol in the middle of the ocean.
After the eye opening heart wrenching film Gianfranco Rosi met the audience, discussed his filming process, and answered questions moderated by the Director of the Venice International Film Festival and directors and actors from Cinema Italian Style. At times Rosi said he was not able to shoot what he saw, like when he got a call at 3 AM to come out and see one of the boats, layers and layers of humans no longer alive, children, babies born at sea still attached to their mothers.
“Fire at Sea is a statement against this attitude of not wanting to accept that we have to face this problem. This is not an emergency. This is the way the world is moving. There is no way we can stop this! We have to accept that people are moving in this world.” – Gianfranco Rosi
On November 23rd a rich series of documentaries will close the Cinema Italian Style 2016 edition, including the presentation of WHEN ITALY ATE IN BLACK AND WHITE – CINECITTARIO by Andrea Gropplero di Troppenburg: 20 recipes from the 20 Italian regions in the post war era; HARRY’S BAR by Carlotta Cerquetti, about the Venetian worldwide famous bar, and the short film FOOD FOR THOUGHT by Davide Gentile running at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.
To culminate the evening, Cinema Italian style hosted an Italian multi-course meal at the glamourous penthouse at Mr. C Beverly Hills prepared by Christine Bowerman, Michelen star Chef Glass Hosteria and Romeo, Rome. Sitting next to Guru Jagat and numerous interesting guests like Andy Garcia, Edoardo Ponti Jr. and wife Sasha Alexandra, and Master Chef Joe Bastianich, I felt thankful for these pleasures and to live in a country where we are safe, but wondered what can WE do as a nation and how will our new administration address these world humanitarian issues.