Combustible Celluloid
With: n/a
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Skye Fitzgerald
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 34
Date: 02/05/2019

Lifeboat (2018)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Hope Floats

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Directed by Skye Fitzgerald — whom, I must confess, I knew when we were kids in elementary school — this remarkable 34-minute documentary tells a story that has been told before. But, frankly, it's a story that cannot be told too many times, and, at the same time, Lifeboat tells the story in a profoundly new way.

Every day hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of migrants escape North Africa, where kidnapping, abuse, human trafficking, rape, and imprisonment are common. The refugees take to rickety wooden, or wobbly rubber, lifeboats and attempt to cross Mediterranean to the safety of Europe, and the promise of a better life. But as one subject explains, they are land people and are not used to the sea. The boats are overcrowded, and the situation close to impossible. Lifeboat gets close enough to see dozens of legs dangling precariously over the sides, simply because there's no more room. We are informed that one in 18 people who attempt to cross, drowns.

But while the documentary fearlessly honors these victims, it also has room in its heart for those that make it, and those that help. Fitzgerald's film is miraculously languid, feeling unhurried and with space for rumination. It interviews some of the survivors, but it never resorts to simple "talking head" sequences; the camera finds images to underscore their spoken words. It takes time to observe a woman, freshly rescued at the bow of a motorboat, simply leaning backward and closing her eyes, the tension in her arm releasing. Even the titles take a moment to shimmer into life, as if the letters and words were floating on water.

Meanwhile, the non-profit organization Sea Watch cruises the sea searching for these boats and helps bring them to safety. The captain of one such rescue ship, Jon Castle (who, sadly, died before the movie was completed), is a wondrous soul. With his gray, grizzled beard, yellow teeth, and loopy pirate's earring, he says with a wry smile that though the world is going to "hell in a handcart," sometimes rational thought isn't important. The brain is a useful tool, he says, but it's when we listen to our hearts that we find the truth. It's a lovely, powerful sentiment, and, one can't help but feel, very important to our lost world.

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