One World Documentary Film Festival: Fire at Sea review

By Ryan Keating-Lambert


One of the Oscar nominated documentary films for 2017 and currently screening at the One World Documentary Film Festival in Prague. Fire at Sea is a sensory feast. Careful attention to detail has been paid to every shot, and every shot tells its own story. It’s lack of narration and soundtrack give it an element of extreme realism and objectivity that makes it a stand-out documentary of 2016.

Italian director Gianfranco Rosi brings us two parallel stories on Lampedusa Island off the coast of Sicily. The first based around 12-year-old boy Samuele Pucillo, who spends his days exploring the island with his friend, shooting slingshots, and getting up to your typical school kid mischief, while the other story puts a focus on Lampedusa as a stopover for refugees, and the horrors they endure at sea.

This film is hyper realistic. Rosi rarely misses an opportunity to show the brutality of war and the perils of crossing the sea, but doesn’t necessarily overwhelm you. He cleverly compares and contrasts the quirky village life of young Samuele to the lives of the refugees. The lack of traditional narration makes you feel like you’re actually there. Although a little slow in parts, it’s a well-crafted and an engaging watch, especially in the cinema. You can really get a feel for the audio visual side of things. There are quite a few wide shots of the barren landscape of the island, not to mention the sea. All of them so intricate and otherworldly.

Related: One World Festival 2017 Recommendations

Rosi himself also did the cinematography and really fleshes out the details, even in the darker scenes. The scenes on and under the water were spectacular, and truly haunting. The sea is an ever present monster that continually pops up throughout the story, as does the theme of ‘blindness’ among the locals. Though they know, they’re mostly oblivious to what’s happening on the island.

Fire at Sea is a well-rounded documentary packed with eerily relevant symbolism and visual spectacles. Check it out at One World this week in Prague.


10.03 – 22:00 – Kino Svetozor

12.03 – 20:30 – Kino Svetozor

Photo: The A.V. Club

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