Oscars: Paolo Sorrentino Criticizes Italy’s Foreign-Language Doc Selection

Fire at Sea - Still 1 - H 2016
Courtesy of TIFF

The Italian committee voted to submit Gianfranco Rosi’s 'Fire at Sea' for the best foreign-language category.

On Monday, a committee of nine leaders in Italian cinema voted to submit Gianfranco Rosi’s Berlin Golden Bear winning documentary Fire at Sea as the country’s submission for best foreign-language film.

Paolo Sorrentino, who won the Oscar in 2014 for his film The Great Beauty, was on the panel alongside Nicholas Borrelli, director general, Ministry of Cinema Heritage and Culture; producers Tilde Corsi and Roberto Sessa; distributors Francesco Melzi D'Eril and Osvaldo De Santis; journalists Piera Detassis and Enrico Magrelli; and journalist and writer Sandro Veronesi.

The panel voted five in favor of Fire at Sea, and four in favor of Edoardo de Angelis’ touching story Indivisible, about conjoined twins in the south of Italy, which played to great reviews in Venice and Toronto.

Fire at Sea is a beautiful movie, but it should have submitted to the Academy in the documentary section,” Sorrentino told newspaper Repubblica, noting that Italy has now missed out having two chances at Academy nominations across two categories.

“This choice is an unnecessary masochistic weakening of Italian cinema that this year could have participated in the Oscars with two films,” continued Sorrentino. “A fictional one that for me would have had many chances was Indivisible by Edoardo De Angelis. And the other is Fire at Sea that could compete and win in the documentary category.” 

For Fire at Sea, Rosi lived for a year on the island of Lampedusa, the first point of entry for vessels arriving from Libya, to document the migrant crisis. The film follows the crisis through the eyes of a young boy in a fisherman’s family, a radio DJ who gives news updates between songs, and a local doctor who treats new arrivals.

Meryl Streep, as president of the Berlin jury, said the film is "deliberate storytelling that allows us to consider what documentary can do. It is urgent, imaginative and necessary filmmaking." 

At the time, Streep also told the film's producer, Donatella Palermo, "This film can win the Oscar. I'll do anything for it to be brought to the U.S."

“I am very happy and excited for this nominated,” Rosi told Repubblica by phone. “The result goes beyond the film, which in these eight months has gone around the world and now belongs to everyone.”

Fire at Sea has been sold in more than 70 countries, has played Toronto and Telluride, with New York Film Festival next, and will be released by Kino Lorber in the U.S. on Oct. 21. 

Fire at Sea will not be the only documentary competing for a best foreign-language nomination this year. Ukraine also submitted Roman Bondarchuk's Ukrainian Sheriffs as its hopeful.