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Interview: Gianfranco Rosi talks Fire at Sea

Speaking with Gianfranco Rosi, the director of the incredible Fire at Sea, is a unique experience. For one, he talks at length on a subject, but comes with paper in which to write diagrams and illustrations for which to illuminate his answers, (this is not a joke).

Then secondly, when casually speaking to an up and coming director about Rosi and the film, the director produces a picture of the two of them taken by Rosi, declaring “he took this one himself”.

Third, the film was on almost everyone’s lips prior to TIFF, and the programmers of the festival were effusive in their praise. As such, we spoke with Rosi, fresh from Telluride, in a downtown office space prior to the festival’s start date. Rosi remarked that he took his first film to TIFF over twenty years ago, but that this is the first documentary to win the Golden Bear at Berlin, and his previous film the only documentary to win the Golden Lion at Venice, that he is only a Golden Leopard at Locarno short of completing the set.

Scene Creek: Do you find that the real world is becoming more fictional?

Gianfranco Rosi: It’s funny because people say to me “This feature film looks so good. It doesn’t look a documentary. Or “This documentary looks like a feature film”. It’s an exchange of ideas. It’s like now we have to decide. Maybe there is a space in between, you know?

SC: How long it take to you to make Fire at Sea?

GR: It took me one and a half years from start to finish. Somebody asked me to go to Lampedusa to do a film there. I started by accepting to do the film and started to immerse myself in that reality. My previous film, my first three films, I did the obsession of my picking my own work, my own subject. I kind of have to have this boundary of “make a film through”. It’s very important for me to be immersed in a space, to understand this space, this island. What does this island represent, which is where it is, what is happening to this island? So I have to create, inside of me, a picture. Then I have to meet the people. That’s the second step, encountering people. Then when I have enough people that I am very close to, then I want to tell the story. That’s when I start filming, or following some of them.

SC: What is the significance of your title?

GR: Fuocoammare? It’s another encounter that I had in this city. It’s a song that plays everywhere on the island. It’s part of the life identity of the place. So once I had someone explain the significance of the song to me. So it became a sort of mood, and I liked the fact that the song is so light, and it leads somehow to a big tragedy. Somehow it affects the way in which people there approach the reality, that something heavy can be told in a light way. It’s an oxymoron.

Fire at Sea is now playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.