Those Who Feel The Fire Burning is an important film in many ways. First, because of its subject matter, that is, the little understood experiences of migrants’ dangerous journey to an existence on the ‘edges’ of Europe. Second, because of its unique treatment of this subject. Not a day goes by without daily headlines reporting on makeshift boats that have sunk killing 100’s in the attempt to cross the Mediterranean into Europe. While journalism tends to focus on statistics, Dutch director Morgan Knibbe artfully challenges us with much, much more than a presentation of facts.
In this film he focuses, instead, on individual stories and doing everything in his power to have us live the collective experience of migration. Another step away from journalistic documentary is his use of camera. Although no camera is ‘objective’, Knibbe’s camera could be said to be the definition of the subjective camera – restless, roaming and sensitive; much like that of a inquisitive child.
From the start we are immersed and shocked by the individual stories of migration. We begin on a failed attempt to arrive on Europe’s shores after a boat full of families capsizes in the middle of the night. From there the narrator continues to recount the reality that even those who survive the journey often end washed up on the waves of loss and despair.
The narrator, perhaps a ghost from the shipwreck, is our guide recounting testimonies of migrant life; a heroin addicted mother; unemployed youths, an older man selling scrap metal, young families making do. The success of the film is undoubtedly the privileged access to these unique characters and their stories. However, what makes this film truly memorable and this experience ‘collective’ is Knibbe’s effective storytelling and cinematic techniques.
Like few films before it, and importantly for one about the realities of migration, Knibbe’s manages to create a fully immersive experience in a way that many dramas can only dream to do and most documentaries never get close to.
Both the ‘hidden cuts’ and the long and seamless camera movements are something rarely used in documentary filmmaking and hardly ever made to be so dynamic. No generous editing. No massaging the facts. No distracting cuts. We fall for the long takes and are seduced by the smooth and inquisitive camera. We are very much immersed in the sensations of what is happening, of us in the room.
Those Who Feel the Fire Burning will shock and create compassion in you. For this alone it should be watched. It is also engaging in its own right – a beautiful and challenging piece of filmmaking.