“Io capitano” filmmakers speaking at the post-screening Q&A. (Jasmine Kwan / Daily Nexus)

From the mind of esteemed director Matteo Garron, yet another transcendental, thought-provoking film reexamining and reconstructing the traditional migrant story from an authentically stark lens was created. “Io Capitano” premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) on Feb. 10 to a full house packed for the 8 a.m. showing.

“Io Capitano” traces the footsteps of teenage cousins Seydou (Seydou Sarr) and Moussa (Moustapha Fall) in their journey from their hometown of Dakar, Senegal to Italy. It is a journey born of an aching dream for musical stardom in Europe. It is also a painstaking journey that quickly wrests away their naivete and idealism.

 Leaving their homes and going against their family’s explicitly expressed wishes is no easy feat in and of itself. Despite warnings of the incessant challenges and an intensely vulnerable mother-son dispute that leaves Seydou’s mother in tears, Seydou and Moussa leave behind all happiness they’ve ever known — their families and their bustling, tight-knit community. They immediately face challenge after challenge that progressively put their humanity, conviction and survival to the test. They are scammed out of their savings, forced to trek across a desert that has claimed countless lives and are violently attacked by the Libyan mafia. They witness and experience inhumane horrors. Seydou has no time to save or properly mourn a woman who collapses in the desert. Moussa witnesses the brutal torture and extortion operations of the Libyan mafia upon their victims, barely escaping with a gunshot wound. 

But they cannot turn back. They have invested, sacrificed, put their lives on the line with every step forward. It is a journey always bound to be success or death from the start.

Following the screening, Garrone entered onstage for a Q&A session, joined by Sarr, Fall and Mamadou Kouassi. Garrone introduced Kouassi, a migrant who had made the journey himself and whose narrative was closely drawn upon in the production of the film. Garrone further explained his intentions in creating this movie. He wanted to step away from the common storyline of migrants fleeing from war and illuminate the agency of various migrants who each had their own reasons in seeking to start anew. He went on to emphasize a need for new migration policies that give everyone an equal opportunity to a better life. In their interviews, Sarr, Fall and Kouassi echoed this sentiment. In the words of Fall, “Every person has the right to dream.”

The thought and attention to detail behind the creation of “Io Capitano” undoubtedly contributes to the incredibly moving quality of the movie. Garrone took special care to ensure that all extras in the movie were real migrants in honor of these “contemporary hero[es].” Additionally, the cinematography of the film was hauntingly striking. Sweeping overhead shots of the desert to the never-ending expanse of the sea seemed to swallow Seydou and Moussa and left a foreboding sense of emptiness. Even more impressive was that despite both being first-time actors, Sarr and Fall’s delivery truly brought their respective characters to life. They were able to perfectly convey such an extensive range of emotions that they blurred the line between character and actor. In the Q&A session, Sarr and Fall revealed that Garrone had not actually given them a script. Being blind to the plot was a technique that aided them in building internal tension, which heightened their high-emotion performances by allowing them to better hypothetically situate themselves in their characters’ position.

“Io Capitano” is a powerful story that speaks on current migrant politics. It is a powerful story that believes there is beauty in idealism. It is a powerful story that celebrates the strength of migrants who resist against all expectations, against all odds, and force their dreams to realize them.


Rating: 10/10