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“Io Capitano”: Oscar-Nominated Film Dramatizes Perilous Migrant Journey from West Africa to Europe

StoryFebruary 08, 2024
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Image Credit: Cohen Media Group

The new Oscar-nominated film Io Capitano follows young Senegalese migrants on their journey from West Africa to Europe. “We wanted to … give visual form to a part of the journey that we don’t see,” says director Matteo Garrone. We are also joined by Mamadou Kouassi, whose journey from the Ivory Coast to Italy inspired the movie. Nearly 200,000 migrants traveled to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea last year. Thousands have died or gone missing during the perilous journey. “We wanted to try to humanize this number,” says Garrone. For migrants like Kouassi, who face increasingly xenophobic and racist anti-immigrant policies and sentiment in Europe, the film provides an “opportunity also to express ourselves” and to share “what African people are suffering before they arrive in Europe.” Kouassi served as a script consultant for the film.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman — I’m Nermeen Shaikh, with Amy Goodman.

We end today’s show the new Oscar-nominated film Io Capitano, which follows young Senegalese migrants on their journey from West Africa to Italy. This is the trailer.

SEYDOU: [played by Seydou Sarr] [translated] We want to go to Europe.

Stop counting!

MOUSSA: [played by Moustapha Fall] [translated] Think about your becoming a big star. White people will be asking you for your autographs.

SEYDOU: [translated] Mum, I have to tell you something.

SEYDOU’S MOTHER: [played by Ndeye Khady Sy] [translated] You have to stay here and breathe the same air as me.

PICKUP DRIVER: [played by Affif Ben Badra] [translated] Shut up!

MOUSSA: [translated] Have you lost your mind? The guide is leaving. If we lose him, we’ll die in the desert for sure!

BORDER POLICE: [translated] We’re in Libya! Give us your money, or it’s jail!

SEYDOU: Moussa! Moussa!

I’m scared I won’t see my mum again. I want to see her to ask her to forgive me.

MARTIN: [played by Issaka Sawadogo] [translated] If you pilot the boat, you can both leave for the price of one.

SEYDOU: [translated] I’ve never done that. I don’t even know how to swim.

You want to let us die here, in the middle of the sea.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That’s the trailer for Io Capitano, which is up for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

We’re joined now by the film’s award-winning director, Matteo Garrone, as well as Mamadou Kouassi, whose journey as an African migrant to Europe is the basis for Io Capitano.

Welcome to you both to Democracy Now! Matteo Garrone, congratulations on this absolutely beautiful film. If you could begin by explaining the inspiration for the film and your decision to tell this story of migrants from the perspective of the migrants themselves, rather than from the perspective of a European country receiving them, which is what films on migrants have all done, so far as I know?

MATTEO GARRONE: Yeah. Well, first of all, thanks for invite us.

And we decide to tell the story starting from the idea to make a sort of reverse shot, so to put the camera instead than how we usually see on the news from our point of view. We are habit and been used to, in Europe, in Italy, to see only the last part of the journey, when the boat arrive in Sicily, and when they succeed to arrive in Sicily, because, as we know, in the last 15 years, 27,000 people have died making this journey. So, we are used to see always this ritual count of numbers, you know, people alive, how many people are are alive, how many people are dead, and with time, we get used that are just number. So we wanted to try to humanize this number. We wanted to try to give to the audience the possibility to live the experience of the journey from the point of view of them, so, finally, to give visual form to a part of the journey that we don’t see. That’s what pushed us to make this movie.

And making this movie, for me, that I’m Italian, was crucial and fundamental to do it with them. So I’ve been a sort of intermediator. I worked since the beginning on the script with the people that for real made this journey. And also on the set, and also on the trailer that we’ve seen, all the extras that are behind the actors are real immigrants that made this journey. So, on the set, they helped me to recreate this odyssey, because they are the carriers of the contemporary epic. So, they recreate this modern odyssey, with me trying to be authentic, trying to be true, for the respect of the people that made this journey, for the respect of the people that died on this journey, and for the help of the people that will see this movie, especially in Africa, and maybe will be aware about the risk that is going through.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to another clip from this absolutely —

MATTEO GARRONE: And I have beside me one of them, yes, Mamadou.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to another clip from this epic film, Io Capitano. This is the star, Seydou, who’s speaking with his cousin about thinking about leaving Senegal.

MOUSSA: [played by Moustapha Fall] [translated] So, when you said you wanted to leave, it was a load of crap? You weren’t serious? Look at me. You’re scared.

SEYDOU: [played by Seydou Sarr] [translated] It’s not that.

MOUSSA: Admit it.

SEYDOU: [translated] Not at all.

MOUSSA: Come on, say it! So what’s the point?

SEYDOU: [translated] Yes, I’m scared.

MOUSSA: You see? OK, Seydou, you don’t want to do this anymore? Six months we’ve been preparing. We did so much work to be able to go. And our dreams? I’m not going without you.

SEYDOU: [translated] Me, neither.

MOUSSA: So now what? Europe is waiting for us. Think about your becoming a big star. White people will be asking you for your autographs. You’ll go on stage like a real star! What do you think? Give me a smile. Smile.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s a clip from Io Capitano. And it takes you on this epic journey from Senegal, through the desert, across the sea, to Italy. Seydou is actually based on the life, though not Senegalese, from the Ivory Coast, of Mamadou Kouassi, who is also in the studio. Mamadou, if you can talk about what it means to have put your journey into this film, that is now nominated for an Oscar, that will be seen around the world, why you left your country and took this perilous journey to Europe?

MAMADOU KOUASSI: Yeah, as we have already seen. Thank you very much for this invitation.

And this film is talking about dream that me and my cousin, we — as we get access to the — to know what is going on at a part of the world. For example, we were students. We know we learn a little bit about Europe. We study in the books. We study it in television. So, we found that it is important to discover what has been seen to us in television, in the newspapers about Europe, that Europe is a country of rights, of human rights, so — and even at the same time a country of dreams, that there you can dream or you can achieve your dream. So, me and my cousin, we work and we start, we decide to travel.

But the only possibility to travel for us is to cross the desert, because for us it is difficult to get a visa to travel. So, we took some information from some people, knowing that to get the visa is very difficult. Even to get the appointment in the embassy is sometimes more difficult. So, we decided to afford the journey of crossing the desert. And when we started the journey, we saw that we did a mistake. It’s like a circle. As soon as you enter, it’s difficult to go back. And we see that it was harder to cross the desert, because there you see many people that are dying. Son, ladies, boys, people are dying. You will see the dead bodies. And you cannot even go back. You will discover the reality, the suffering of a human being.

And it’s not only in the desert. When you arrive in the transit countries like Libya, what you have seen on the movie is true reality, that we have been sold there like slaves. We have been tortured in the prison. People are dying in numbers. And people are obliged to take the inflatable boat also to cross the Mediterranean Sea. And there, at the same time, people are dying.

So, for us, this film has given us opportunity also to express ourselves, to bring this reality all over the world, because people are talking, but they don’t know, before that people enter in Europe, number of people die in the desert, in the Mediterranean Sea, in the prison, people have been sold. ’Til today, people are suffering in this part of the country. So, this film is, for us, a big instrument to share this information to the world, for the huge public to know what African people are suffering before they arrive in Europe. Io Capitano, I think, is the huge instrument to send this message to the world that things have to be changed, policy has to be changed.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Mamadou Kouassi, we are going to continue this conversation and post it on democracynow.org. Mamadou Kouassi, whose journey as an African migrant to Europe is the basis for the new film Io Capitano, and Matteo Garrone, the film’s director.

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I am Nermeen Shaikh, with Amy Goodman.

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