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Venice Film Festival Winner ‘Io Capitano’: An Afro-European Migration Journey

The award-winning film "Io Capitano" offers a compassionate, yet untold perspective of migrant phenomena from its source, steering clear of Eurocentric narratives. Directed by Matteo Garrone, the film explores a unique Afro-European perspective on migration, inspired by true events.

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Russell Weaver
Russell Weaver
Russell Weaver is a renowned writer, celebrated for his vibrant storytelling and intricate world-building. Beyond being an writer, he's an artist, dedicated to crafting stories that captivate, transform, and linger.
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Amidst a solitary corner of the Sahara desert, a woman collapses on the brink of a dune. Not too far away, a churning caravan of wandering spirits obscures the horizon. In a desperate plea for help, a young lad breaks away from the roving procession, rushing to her side. He scoops her up, her dress fluttering like the tail of a siren, weightless in the stagnant air. Their hands interlocked, they resume the journey together.

But, life isn’t always so poetic. The harsh reality was, the woman, sadly devoid of intervention, probably succumbed right there, consigned to join the silent voices of countless African migrants submerged beneath the sandy waves, their dreams of reaching Europe snuffed.

“Io Capitano” (“I, Captain”) from the artistic vision of director Matteo Garrone, urges viewers to seek solace in the imagined—the creative island that offers comfort amidst life’s raging storms. Primarily chronicling the grueling journey of two Senegalese cousins, who journey from West Africa to Italy, the film peers into the lives of migrants, borne from a perspective seldom touched upon in conventional storytelling.

Seydou and Moussa, portrayed on screen by first-time actors Seydou Sarr and Moustapha Fall, start off on an innocent escapade. Their journey, however, morphs into a nightmare of extortion, exploitation, and mortality as they navigate their way through Niger and Libya to the Mediterranean fringes.

Io Capitano at the Venice Film Festival

The Venice Film Festival premiered “Io Capitano” last week, where Garrone and Sarr bagged the awards for best director and best young actor respectively—it hit Italian theaters on September 7. Io Capitano’s breakthrough coincides with rising anti-migrant sentiments in Italy’s political sphere. Trudging beyond cold statistics—indicating over 2,700 migrant deaths or disappearances in the Mediterranean this year alone—Garrone etches a deeply compassionate tale about the plight of migrants tracing it right to its inception.

Garrone, in conversation with CNN, revealed his goal to present the widely familiar yet complex migrant phenomenon under an unbeknownst light, aiming to showcase that it’s more than just sheer numbers pouring into European shores. His attempt was to execute a reverse shot, veering away from the Eurocentric gaze towards a perspective echoing from Africa to Europe.

African cinema has frequently grappled with tales of migration to Europe. Several masterpieces, such as Ousamane Sembene’s “Black Girl” (1966) and Med Hondo’s “Soleil Ô” (1970), tackle this subject, narrating the experiences of Africans inhabiting Europe. But rarely has a white director, such as Garrone, approached a migration narrative from an African standpoint.

To achieve this, Garrone enlisted the help of Mamadou Kouassi, an Ivorian migrant who had embarked on a similar journey with his cousin about 15 years ago. Now residing in Naples, Kouassi assists new migrants in sharing their stories. His lived experiences played an instrumental role in shaping the script, with numerous encounters making their way into the final film.

Kouassi’s contributions were invaluable, offering a fresh perspective and intimate details—elements that were previously overlooked. His narrative emphasized the deeply personal reasons compelling individuals to leave their homeland.

“Io Capitano” creates a fresh narrative. It’s a film that unravels from the very start, peeling back layers of the human experience rarely portrayed in cinema and that there’s a lot more to migration than numbers on a chart. In Io Capitano, they consult a Marabout, or spiritual leader, seeking guidance and requesting permission from their deceased ancestors to depart—an experience shared by Kouassi. These profound cultural references imbue the film with a unique storytelling character—a testament to the raw, unfiltered, and human stories that shape the global narrative on migration.

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