Monday, December 4, 2023

European Parliament Celebrates Italian Oscar Contender ‘Io Capitano’

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Matteo Garrone presented his film Io Capitano, Italy’s contender for the 2024 best international feature Oscar, to a packed theater of European parliamentarians and attendees on Nov. 15, for an event titled “Europe Seen by Others.”

The refugee drama, which follows two Senegalese men who travel across Africa and the Mediterranean in an effort to reach Europe, premiered at the Venice Film Festival, where star Seydou Sarr won the Silver Lion award for best young actor. Garrone and his Io Capitano co-writers Fofana Amara and Mamadou Kouassi — whose real-life trials were the basis for the film’s story — attended the parliamentary screening. The 600 spectators gave the film a long-standing ovation after the screening.

The members of European Parliament (MEPs) were impressed, with several taking to social media to praise the film and its message. “[Io Capitano is] a tremendously important and powerful work that should be screened in all schools across the continent,” Spanish MEP Domènec Ruiz Devesa posted on X shortly after the event.

Speaking after the screening, Garrone said his goal with the film was to provide “a reverse shot” of the usual Euro-centric narrative of the migration crisis. “We are used to our perspective [looking] from Europe to Africa; I wanted to narrate the journey from another angle, from [the African] point of view, pointing the camera from Africa towards Europe,” he said. “We tried to offer the audience the chance to relive the experience of this odyssey. This film is a document of contemporary history, and I believe it touches consciences.”

The issue of illegal migration is one of the most politically explosive topics in Europe today, with fierce debates in the EU parliament over whether member countries should take in more migrants or pay coastal nations in Africa to block people from attempting the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean.

“Political debate does not interest me,” noted Garrone, pointing to the more basic principle of the protection of human life. “It is always right to save lives at sea [it’s] a fundamental, universal principle.”

In a statement, Amara and Kouassi made their position clear. “The suffering to reach Europe is immense,” they said. “The only way to avoid it is to have safe entry channels, without giving more money to Libya and Tunisia that trample on human rights.”

Only a handful of films are granted EU parliamentary screenings, with the majority shown in the context of the Lux Audience Award, a prize given annually by the EU Commission and the European Film Academy, in collaboration with exhibitors group Europa Cinemas, which aims to raise awareness of social, political, and cultural issues in Europe.

The Io Capitano screening, however, was the direct initiative of European parliamentarians, including Italian MEPs Pietro Bartolo, Massimiliano Smeriglio and Brando Benifei. The screening was sold out, with some 400 guests left outside the packed hall.

Viewers of Gianfranco Rosi’s Oscar-nominated documentary Fire at Sea (2016) will remember Bartolo as the emergency physician who worked on the Italian island of Lampedusa, giving first care to migrants who landed there after the journey over the sea. After 25 years as a physician, Bartolo was elected to the EU parliament in 2019. At the screening, he called Io Capitano a “masterpiece” that finally shows “the phenomenon of migration from the migrants’ perspective, not ours.”

Io Capitano is also a contender at next month’s European Film Awards, where it has picked up nominations for best film and best director. The movie has sold worldwide but is still looking for a U.S. distributor. Io Capitano was produced by Archimede with Rai Cinema and Tarantula in collaboration with Pathé and Logical Content Ventures as an Italian-Belgian co-production.

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