MEDITERRANEA written and directed by Jonas Carpignano who has been working on this film for 5 years. Initially in 2010, he intended the project to be a short documentary on the African immigrants who were mainly farm workers in the town of Rosarno in Calbria, Italy protesting against their discriminatory treatment and horrific squalid living conditions.
“… several thousand immigrants live in and around Rosarno while helping with the harvest of oranges and clementines…On the Gioia Tauro plain which encompasses Rosarno, they are collected each morning by overseers and driven into citrus groves for work that can last from dawn to dusk…"They earn €25 a day", said Father Ennio Stamile of the Roman Catholic charity Caritas. ‘They have to send money to their countries to maintain their families and also live here. Not much is left for them. The economic crisis has exacerbated their situation…On the plain, there are about 2,000 African immigrants who sleep the night crowded together in a former paper mill and another large building, said Monsignor Pino de Masi, the vicar-general of the Oppido-Palmi diocese. ‘If anyone from central government were to see the conditions in which they live, without sanitation, electricity, water or heating, they would not be surprised by what has happened.’ “
(The Guardian, John Hooper 1/2/2010)
Nights of violence between the migrants and the Italian locals led to many injuries and during the day demonstrators - marched on Town Hall to demand an end to racial intolerance. Into this highly-charged milieu, the Director Carpignano met an Aftrican migrant, Koudous Seihon from Burkina Faso whose powerful presence changed the trajectory of his original concept - from a short documentary to a full-length feature film based on the life and stories told to him by Seihon who also agreed to play the lead character, Ayiva - a beautiful, nuanced performance conveying steadiness of character with a deep longing for his homeland and the seven year old daughter he left behind, combined with an optimistic view of a future that is fraught with barriers based on color, and economic bleakness.
MEDITERRANEA follows the well worn path to “the promised land” which unknowingly is often seeded with hopelessness and despair. In this fictional dramatization of Koudous Seihon’s own trek, Ayiva must first obtain the money to leave Burkina Faso and is forced to pay unscrupulous brokers high fees to get a seat on a truck filled with fellow travelers - herded together like lambs going to slaughter.
I am an artist whose focus has been on refugees and migrants for the past 14 years and the images on the screen reflected my paintings like a mirror - literally pictures moving. I wanted to cry out “hold that frame, and the next one, and the one after, etc. etc!!!!” Once on their journey to Europe the exhausted bands of wanderers have to go through many difficult and life threatening trials - all on foot - over Algiers; stumbling through the dry vast seemingly limitless Libyan desert, where bandits/ human vultures prey on the vulnerable; and the final “labor” - maneuvering a small boat without a seasoned navigator through the volatile waters of the Mediterranean Sea exposed to nature’s moods - be they light-filled or threatening storms - until those that endure arrive in Calabria - the toe of Italy where the local welcome is wary and impassive and often downright aggressive and dangerous.
Wyatt Garfield’s cinematography is immediate and intimate. The hand-held camera bounces along with the fleeing characters contributing to the chaotic climate and the confusion of flight - we don’t know where we are; there are moments when the lens is in and out of focus, an arm, a leg an eye bounces on the screen, distance is compressed - near and far become a blur, and we in the audience experience the tension and agitation of the approaching unknown.
We follow Ayiva and his best friend Abas (Alassane Sy), a languid, narcissistic, spoiled man envisioning Europe as a huge Hollywood fantasy with a dream of sexy women responding to his “handsome charms” - who smashes up against reality filling him with anguish at the fetid and wretched circumstances he and his friend are forced to occupy, falling into depression and despondency, eventually striking back in frenzied frustration.
MEDITERRANEA is not delusional cinema - it is a heard-hitting view of displacement, contrasting cultures with moments of shared humanity. The flight from the homeland - is a painfully difficult one which requires a steeliness of will and some humor. That humor is injected by a teenaged Italian boy Pio (Pio Amato), a consummate tradesman who barters with the African immigrants and is a dead-panned comic. In contrast the immigrant women are often exploited by the Italian men, and we catch a glimpse of how they are sexually abused - barely witnessed by the camera, silhouettes in the act of fellatio behind a dim, closing door.
The film climaxes with the immigrants’ fierce uprising on the streets of the city after the destruction and collapse of their tawdry makeshift “homes” - demolished by the Italian Police - Carabinieri. The locales in the community are brutal in their response - a retelling of the original Rosarno outbreak, where Director Jonas Carpignano first met Seihon (Ayiva) who would galvanize this movie; an attempt to narrate crossing borders without any simple answers to what we see daily in the “headlines”.