Remembering Lampedusa

On 3 October 2013, a fishing boat carrying Eritrean refugees sank off the island of Lampedusa. At least 368 people died and 155 people survived. It was the deadliest post war disaster in Italy and one that shocked publics across Europe – but we still haven’t heard the survivors version of what actually happened.
Remembering Lampedusa is a collaborative film and research project that takes the challenge to listen to the survivors and the family members of the victims. It is a work of listening to the memories that live on in Copenhagen, Hannover, and small towns in Sweden where the survivors now live.

With the survivors and Lampedusan civil rescuers a team of scholars, filmmakers, and refugee activists have created five short documentary films. Each film is based on a main character’s story of the disaster and their survival.
The series of five films shows how each person’s emotional experience and memory is unique.

These films offer an alternative critical perspective to death at Europe’s borders. Instead of fatality metrics, numbers, and images of anonymous masses of people, the attention is on individual persons: their memories, emotions, and thoughts.

Remembering Lampedusa: Trailer

Director’s statement

These films have been created in a radically inclusive way with co-director Adal Neguse who lost his brother in the tragic event at the Mediterranean. This loss prompted him to want to create documentary films. He was compelled to interview the survivors because he wanted to know exactly what happened on the boat that night. The survivors also have a deep emotional need to tell him what they witnessed.

Remembering Lampedusa is a film project that includes the survivors of the disaster in the creative process and is made in constant dialogue with them. This participatory way of film directing has required time, patience and listening from everyone. It has demanded openness and sometimes challenging communication between all parties.

Our ambition is to create films together that awakes emotion, have strong drama, visual beauty and will work for audiences all over the world. We believe this is possible through respectful communication and esteem for each others’ cultural and aesthetic preferences, and searching for a transcultural artistic integrity. Both director’s unique background, worldview, knowledge and skills have been necessary to make this film.

The interview, which at times becomes a self-narrated testimony, is the backbone of the film’s structure. This would not have been possible without co-director Neguse’s personal experiences and relationship with the main characters. The survivors are talking with him because they share a horrible wound, and by talking about it they find ways to live with it. Director Blom’s knowledge has been crucial in creating a storyline that has a strong drive forward and gives an emotionally deep viewing experience.
The theme for the films is the disaster in the Mediterranean Sea and what it means for the survivors. The theme is important for those who have experienced it, but it is also important for the European audience whose governments are creating a situation where these tragedies continue to happen. It is also a key event remembered by the Eritrean diaspora. The survivors and many European viewers carry a collective feeling of guilt because of what is happening and one way of dealing with this feeling is to create stories about it.

As Bisrat says in the interview in reference to the 368 who died in the disaster::
”As long as we are living in this world, in order not to forget, we work hard to make something in their name.”

While making these films we have gathered together numerous times, shared stories and emotions, and by doing that we have created not only our unique way of making films but also a unique memory together. The films are our contribution to the Swedish, Nordic, and European cultural archive, and one day, future generations may study these in order to understand us and our present society. The films are also important in our own lives. We are living in this world together, it is important to see and listen to each other on a deep and genuine level. This happens in the creative process around the films and we also hope that it will happen when we share the films with audiences.

 The films

At the night of the disaster Adal Neguse, an Eritrean-Swedish health care worker and human rights advocate, turned on the news and learned that a ship carrying refugees from Libya had sunk outside Lampedusa. Adal was afraid that his brother would be on board. He flew to Lampedusa and found out that his brother did not survive. Four times Adal has returned to Lampedusa to commemorate his brother’s death on the 3 October. He needed to know everything he could about the disaster and he wants to raise awareness about the rights of refugees by remembering those who die at Europe’s borders.

Runtime 11 min. 15 sek.
Language: swedish, english
Subtitles: english, italian, german
Format: 2K, 16:9, Dolby 5:1, color

”I feel like electric shocks go through my body when I think about that moment”, Solomon Ghebrihiwet says when he describes to Adal what he felt when the ship capsized and he lost his grip of a small child he had in his arms. ”We were like ants in boiling water”, he continues. Lampedusan ice cream maker Vito Fiorino chanced on the disaster site hours after on his overnight fishing trip. Solomon was one of the 47 people he rescued to his boat. Four years after the disaster Vito travels to Sweden where Solomon lives today.

Runtime 14 min. 16 sek.
Language: tigrinya, italian
Subtitles: english, italian, german
Format: 2K, 16:9, Dolby 5:1, color

Only six women survived the disaster. Bisrat Tewelde is one of them. Bisrat says she is not a good swimmer, and she doesn’t know how she managed to survive. She can’t remember the moment she was rescued. In the disaster she lost family and friends who had travelled with her all the way from Eritrea and survived a kidnapping on route. Now Bisrat has created a new home in Sweden where she lives with her partner and young daughter.

Runtime 10 min. 16 sek.
Language: tigrinya
Subtitles: english, italian, german
Format: 2K, 16:9, Dolby 5:1, color

Adhanom Rezene feels deep connection and gratitude towards the Lampedusan civil rescuers who discovered the disaster and started saving people. ”The Lampedusans gathered us in the church, they gave us clothes and money so we could call our families, they were as shocked as we were”. Costantino Baratta was one of the civil rescuers. He and his wife Rosa Maria stay in touch with Adhanom and other survivors through social media. Adhanom works in Sweden, taking care of elderly people. He sends money to his ageing parents in Eritrea. ”But money can never be the same thing as being near them”.

Runtime 11 min. 16 sek.
Language: tigrinya, italian
Subtitles: english, italian, german
Format: 2K, 16:9, Dolby 5:1, color

KB was only 13 when he survived the disaster. When he is 17 years old KB returns to Lampedusa and explores debris discarded by migrants in one of the boat cemeteries on the island. He finds water bottles which remind him of the journey and his rescue. ”I found an empty water bottle in the sea, I held on to it”. KB plays the krar, an instrument common in Eritrea. His dream is that he could return to Eritrea and live in peace and freedom at home near his parents.

Runtime 8 min. 12 sec.
Language: tigrinya
Subtitles: english, italian, german
Format: 2K, 16:9, Dolby 5:1, color