When a documentary filmmaker starts winning major awards usually reserved for fiction filmmakers, like the Golden Bear (Berlin Film Festival) and Golden Lion (Venice Film Festival), it’s time to start paying attention. Those in the nonfiction world have been making the argument that Gianfranco Rosi is one our greatest working filmmakers and with “Fire at Sea” — given a rare main slate spot for a doc at NYFF and receiving awards attention as Italy’s Official Oscar entry — it might be the film in which others start giving him his due as well.
“Fire at Sea” is told largely from the point of view of Samuele, a 10-year-old boy living on the sleepy island of Lampedusa, the southern most point of Europe. Just off the island’s shores, a near-daily life and death battle is raging as rescue boats try to save hundreds of refugees trying to reach European shores. Rosi’s unique portrait of Lampedusa is not the immersive handheld experience, nor the analytic talking-head documentary we are use to seeing in a film about a humanitarian crisis. Like his other work, “Fire at Sea” is a collection of small poignant moments where, as Rosi describes it, he “tries to close the door, rather than open it wide.”
In the podcast, Rosi talks about his unique process of embedding himself for months — making an emotional connection to a location and finding his story — before picking up his camera to capture it. He also talks about how learning to make documentaries on 16mm film shaped his aesthetic approach of keeping the camera on tripod, not trying to follow the action, and only taking two months to edit a feature length film.
Listen to the entire episode above.
“Fire at Sea” opens in New York on October 21 and Los Angeles on October 28. A retrospective of the directors’ films will be held at BAM October 28 to November 3.
Previous episodes include Ira Sachs on writing “Little Men,” Web Series 101, “Kate Plays Christine” director Robert Greene on cinematic nonfiction, Kirsten Johnson discussing her life as a “Cameraperson,” the “Night of” location manager on shooting in New York and Andrea Arnold on “American Honey,” and Kelly Reichardt on her latest “Certain Women” (opening today).
The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.