Barefoot migrants queue to disembark from a military vessel
Paris - AFP
As migrant tragedies overflow in the news cycle, especially in Europe, a new movie opening in France puts a human -- and artistic -- face on the phenomenon up on the big screen.
"Mediterranea", a first feature by US-Italian director Jonas Carpignano who was part of the shooting crew on the well-received 2012 film "Beasts of the Southern Wild", follows two Africans as they make an odyssey to Europe -- and to disillusionment.
It starts in Algeria and moves to Libya, a launching-off point for some of the many perilous cross-Mediterranean boat trips being made by hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees each year. It then goes on to show the dangers and hard slog as the two main characters make it to Italy.
One of the characters is played by Koudous Seihon, and the story is inspired by his true-life story: born in Ghana he first went to Burkina Faso after the death of his father then travelled through Africa to Libya, where he boarded a migrant boat for Italy.
His co-star, playing his friend on the voyage, is Alassane Sy, a Mauritian-born actor and model now living in the US.
Arriving in Italy, the two characters realise their ordeal is far fom over. They have to navigate homelessness, exploitative employers and hostility and racial violence from locals.
- Beyond 'statistics' -
Carpignano, 31, said wanted the film to tell the story from the perspective of one person, rather than a big-theme approach based on current events that doesn't home in on anyone in particular.
"I think it is much more powerful than these statistics, these news stories, these big features, these numbers, which can be very unpersonal," the director, who was raised in New York and in Rome, told AFP.
News outlets concentrate on migrant deaths, he said, "the next story is always about the next journey over -- it never follows what happened to these people who survived".
He hopes the movie will spur people to empathise with the migrants, "to see the similarities, to ask 'what would I do in that situation?' and realise that if you're freezing cold and you're living in a shack and you need clothes -- what would you do? Maybe not everyone would steal a bag, but do you understand why somebody would? I hope so."
The movie, which first screened in a sideline section of the Cannes Film Festival in May, is "complex and challenging," the US film industry magazine Variety wrote.
It resists choices that would make it "easily relatable to a mainstream audience, opting instead for a more rarefied art-film format," Variety said.
The movie opens in France next week and is to be shown in Germany in October.