Thursday, November 17th, Gianfranco Rosi’s Fire at Sea opened the Cinema Italian Style series co-presented by AFI Fest, showing images of the small Italian island of Lampedusa at the beautiful and historic Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. Amidst the visuals of Lampedusa’s fishing community and moments with a humorous youngster, is footage of migration - Africans from a variety of countries where the lack of safety in their homelands has led to a risky voyage at sea en route to Europe.
This is a documentary without a musical soundtrack nor narration. Music is only heard in the rare moments it is played or created by the people in the film - an appropriate choice to further engage the audience with the experience of life on this quiet island, and for those for whom reaching it has become a last resort in survival. Cinéma vérité depicts men, women and children being rescued at sea, along with the dead bodies of those who did not make it. We see loved ones holding one another, and a man whose red tear drips slowly down his face.
This film reminded me of my trip to Cuba in March of this year, the week before Obama’s historic visit. I was there solo, working on my book, Through the Lens of an American Woman Alone in Cuba. In addition to returning with a body of work, I returned with such a strong sense of gratitude to be home. I also had a keener understanding of what has motivated so many people to risk their lives and leave Cuba, America bound. I felt more thankful than ever to live in a place that is not fundamentally superior, not the only free nation on earth with good health care, education and jobs - but one that most definitely provides a certain standard of living, opportunities that are not a given everywhere and an imperfect, but high level of safety.
In all aspects of life, one can sometimes trace our beliefs, actions and in-actions to fear. Even people who consider themselves non-racist and who are sincerely caring, thoughtful and kind, can find themselves inclined to treat a group of people that they do not identify with in a way they would not want to be treated.
No doubt, circumstances in your life will arise that challenge you to recall the Golden Rule - and whether you are a Christian who appreciates the origins of this famous phrase, or simply human, this is a good principle to keep in mind. In the specific situation of migration, from Africa to Europe as shown in Fire at Sea being just one current route, bear in mind that people have been roaming this earth we share for many, many years. In forming a responsible opinion, take a moment to do some research. Ask an immigrant why he left his home. Let her tell you stories about what she experienced along the way - go travel to a country where many are trying to escape. Visit Morocco or Lebanon and feel the awkwardness when you offer to return the hospitality to your new friends when they travel to your home turf., and they apprise you essentially of their lack of the same freedoms you have of mobility around the world.
And if you do not have relatives who suffered injustice as Native Americans or by being forced to immigrate, then take a moment:
Thank your parents, your grandparents or whoever was the trailblazer in your family tree who made sacrifices, took a great risk and possibly endured some “Fire at Sea” so that they and their family line - you - could have a better life and represent well a nation founded on equality for all.
So when that American pride swells inside, may you sing it, and live it boldly: ..”Land of the free, and home of the brave.”