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In Venice Italian filmmakers tackle thorny migration issue
Date: 06/09/2011 - 09:23
Contrasting Italian attitudes towards migrants are at the centre of two films which have stirred controversy at this year's Venice Film Festival.
Screening in the festival's main in-competion section, Emanuele Crialese's Terraferma marks a return to the topic of migration for the director of 2006's well-received Nuovomondo.
That movie told the story of the members of an impoverished family from Sicily who in the early part of the 20th century seek to find a better life in the US.
In Terraferma, Crialese turns to the burning issue of modern-day migration to Italy, to whose shores thousands of people - mainly sub-Saharan Africans - attempt to reach as a gateway to Europe each year.
Set on an unnamed volcanic southern Italian island, the film deals with the disruptive impact the decision to illegally shelter a pregnant Ethiopian woman and her young son has on a local family.
Seeking authenticity, Crialese cast in the role of the Ethiopian woman, Timnit T, a real-life migrant who in 2009 was left drifting for 21 days at sea on a boat that eventually ran aground on the island of Lampedusa.
Timnit and four other survivors were found surrounded by the corpses of more than 60 travelling companions who had died during the Mediterranean crossing.
Crialese said he had first spotted her from news footage which showed 'the eyes of someone who had been through hell but whose gaze looked forward to the heaven she believed she had found.'
In the movie Timnit's character Sara reveals that the child that she gives birth to shortly after her arrival on the Italian island was conceived when she was raped in front of her son by guards in a Libyan internment camp.
Terraferma garnered applause at its Venice screening. At a news conference, Crialese, rejected accusations that he had been 'falsely manipulative' in his portrayal of Italian authorities who in the film confiscate the islander-family's fishing boat on suspicion that its owners had 'abetted illegal immigration.'
Crialese said he knew of cases in which Italian fishermen had had their boats confiscated after intervening to rescue migrants stranded at sea.
He also slammed what the 'completely inadequate' response of the Italian state to migration.
'Allowing people to die at sea is a sign of great disrespect,' Crialese said.
He was apparently referring to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government's so-called 'push-back' policy in which migrants intercepted in international waters are refused entry into Italy.
Until earlier this year and before the uprising against former Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi, the policy was enforced through a 2008 Rome-Tripoli pact which involved the return of migrants - mostly sub-Saharan African - to Libya.
The pact which was scrapped following Italy's decision to join a NATO campaign to protect Libyan civilians from troops loyal to Gaddafi's had been condemned by the United Nations as a violation of the rights of asylum seekers.
In one story-defining scene of Terraferma, Italian authorities instruct the crew of a fishing boat not to rescue a group of people stranded on a migrant vessel, but rather to wait for the intervention of a coast guard patrol boat.
Another film dealing with migration, albeit the reception given to gainfully employed foreigners in Italy's prosperous North East Veneto region - one which encompasses Venice - has triggered a political row.
Francesco Patierno's Cose dell'altro mondo (Other worldly affairs) is a satire which mocks the alleged hypocrisy that lies behind racist attitudes in a part of Italy where many of the small industries that form its economic backbone rely on foreign workers.
In a farcical tone the film portrays a provincial town in Veneto that becomes completely paralysed when all the migrants - from factory workers to football stars - one day mysteriously disappear from the country.
Politicians from the anti-immigration Northern League party - the junior partner in Berlusconi's conservative coalition - have condemned the film and in particular the fact that it received a state arts subsidy.
They have claimed it offers a negative portrayal of a part of the country from which the party receives much of its support.
The film which is not in the main Venice festival lineup drew applause at screenings in the lagoon city and has received mostly favourable reviews.
But some migrant representatives have been less enthusiastic.
'There's a lack of humour and symbolism,' said Abdallah Khezraji, who is the deputy president of a stage advisory body on migration issues in the Veneto.
'The funds that went to the film would have been better spent on measures to intergrate migrants,' he said.
Source: Monsters and Critics
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