Fire at Sea (2016) is a documentary by Gianfranco Rosi . The dual narrative story centers on a small island on the southern end of Italy called Lampedusa, which receives hundreds of thousands of African and Middle Eastern migrants each year. On the one side of the narrative, the film follows 12-year-old Samuele Pucillo, a local boy who lives a typical young boy life on Lampedusa. At the other end of the narrative the film follows the local Lampedusa government at sea as they intersect the refugee boats and process the migrants.
While watching Fire at Sea and keeping in mind what genre of film I was watching, I was disappointed with Fire at Sea for how simple it was. For me, what makes a documentary special is that the narrative grips you and pulls you into the film. While Fire at Sea does accomplish this, it does it only in a partial way. The side of the narrative that follows the Lampedusa government as the rescue of the immigrants and how they process them is fascinating. It was very eye-opening to see the conditions aboard the migrant's boats and to hear their stories of life and journey. However, where the film fell flat for me was the side of the narrative that followed life on land with Samuele. His story was very slow and lacked any real substance. Samuele is an average 12-year-old boy, and with most young boys of this age, his life is not that exciting. As the film jumps between the two sides of the story, I found that I was bored with Samuele's life on land and was wanting to return to the more intriguing migrant side of the film.
Along with directing, Rosi was also the film's cinematographer, and this is where the film really shined for me. Rosi shot the film beautifully and he knows how to frame a shot and how to utilize natural elements to empower a scene visually. My only real issue with this film’s visuals was the overuse of long shots. The 1-hour 54-minute runtime could have easily been trimmed down to a more comfortable level if they had removed or shortened some of the long shots. I look forward to seeing more from Rosi but I would like to see him tackle something with more substance and story.
Fire at Sea is a beautifully shot documentary but half of its narrative lacks any real story or substance. The segments of the film that explore the rescue efforts of the migrants are very compelling and immersive. I would have preferred if the documentary focused solely on this side of the narrative instead of exploring the life of 12-year-old Samuele. I give Fire at Sea a 6 out of 10.