Director of Oscar-Nominated Doc About Refugees on Trump's Travel Ban: "What's the Point of This?"

Courtesy of Kino Lorber; Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images
Gianfranco Rosi’s film shows how an influx of migrant refugees affected a small Sicilian island.

Gianfranco Rosi, the writer, director and producer of the Oscar-nominated 'Fire at Sea,' was among those protesting this weekend at LAX.

Italian documentarian Gianfranco Rosi arrived at LAX on Jan. 28 just as crowds were gathering to protest President Donald Trump's travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries. After checking in at his hotel, Rosi, 52, whose harrowing refugee documentary Fire at Sea is nominated for a best feature documentary Oscar (he says he will attend the ceremony), promptly returned to the airport to join the protest. He spoke to THR about the implications of Trump's controversial executive order.

You attended the travel ban protest at LAX?

Yes, I went to see the presence of so many people, so many young lawyers, [it] was amazing. It makes a big difference that so many people are responding and not being passive. This is the moment in history where the majority cannot be silent anymore. The whole world is escaping from responsibility, from history, because we constantly hear the voices of intolerance and of fear.

How did you feel when you heard about Trump's executive order?

I wanted to ask the question: What does it mean when America walks out on history? This is a scary thing. America has always been the beacon of freedom, of immigration. To see all these people outside the airports in desperation, all these families broken up, each small individual story, you see the terror in their faces. 

What's the point of this? An exploitation of fear? Each person has to ask, "What is my position on this tragedy?" My film doesn't give answers, but it forces you to think about questions that suddenly we all have to answer.

What message would you give to Trump about refugees?

It marks in my mind the speech Obama gave at the UN on immigration, saying, “a nation ringed by walls would only imprison itself.” This is an incredible statement and we should keep reminding ourselves of it.

We have to be able to look into the eyes of people and not make general assumptions. The bigger the assumption is, the bigger the fear is. When fear expands it becomes an avalanche and no one can stop it. We’ll all be under this avalanche. When you become aware of the small stories, it’s much more clear.

More than a quarter of a million people in Libya have fled the tragedy. How hard would it be to build a humanitarian bridge for 250,000 people from Libya into Europe? This only happens if every country takes responsibility. Jordan, a very small country, has accepted 1 million refugees. And here we are, afraid of accepting 250,000 people, which is nothing.

It’s the difference between creating a world that is based on fear, or creating a world based on hope. Politically, this will not pay off. The wall will never resist the course of history. Sooner or later, the wall will fall apart. It’s the duty of politicians to confront this is a different way.

Do you think Trump would watch Fire at Sea?

(Laughs.) No. It's the same in Italy. All the "tough guys" won't sit down to watch my film. They don't have the patience. And they don't have the human compassion to watch this film. But what I hope my film can do is create an awareness. If I have 10 people coming out and saying, "What can I do?" then it's worth making this film.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.