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When immigration stories stop being just fiction

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Two teenagers on screen trudge through the endless dunes of the Sahara Desert on their way to Europe. Other fellow immigrants were also tortured in blood-stained Libyan prisons.

But for young people who watched the film on a recent evening in a suburb of Senegal’s capital, Dakar, the ordeal felt all too real. Two of his brothers made the same journey years ago.

“That’s why they refused to give me money to go that way,” said Ahmadou Diallo, 18, a street cleaner. “Because they’ve seen firsthand how dangerous it is.”

Western critics have praised “The Captain,” a film nominated for the 2024 Oscar for Best International Feature Film, noting its realistic and tender depiction of migration from Africa to Europe. The show is now showing in African countries and in Senegal itself. It is here that the two protagonists in the movie embark on an adventurous journey that epitomizes the dreams and hardships of countless people who hope to go abroad.

Last month, the film’s crew and director Matteo Garrone took “The Captain” to a dozen places in Senegal where immigration is not fiction. They screened the film in youth centers, schools and even an open-air cinema in a converted basketball court in the Dakar suburb of Gediavalle, where Diallo and hundreds of others watched on a big screen at sunset. movie.

“Io Capitano” tells the story of Seydou and MoussaTwo adorable cousins ​​leave Dakar after months of planning, spending all their savings from hard work on construction sites.

But what begins as an exciting road trip soon turns into a dangerous adventure as the teens find themselves in the hands of unwary smugglers, then at the mercy of armed bandits and brutal jailers before they arrive Take the most fatal step in the journey – crossing the Mediterranean inhabitants.

The protagonist, Seydoux, eventually becomes the captain of the ship that takes them and hundreds of other immigrants to Italy. The movie never shows them reaching shore, but when an Italian Coast Guard helicopter hovers over the ship, it’s easy for viewers to believe they will be rescued and that part of their troubles are over.

On the basketball court, some gasped in horror as on-screen robbers opened fire on a group of immigrants. Others covered their eyes with hoods during torture scenes.

“People know they risk losing their lives” by seeking to immigrate to Europe, Mr Gallon said. “But they haven’t seen what that’s like.”

Most of Senegal’s 17 million people are young, but its fast-growing economy struggles to provide them with decent-paying jobs.Thousands of people leave every year Crossing the Sahara Desert and Atlantic, fatal accidents happen from time to time.More and more capable people are flying Central Americahoping to reach the United States this way.

Senegal’s new president, Basilu Diomaye FayCommit to improving the economy by providing financing for small businesses and increasing training for jobs in agriculture, fisheries and industry. Natural gas and oil reserves are expected to make the small coastal country a hydrocarbon powerhouse in Africa.

But in Gediawaye, where newly built houses sit on sandy streets next to ramshackle shelters infested with flies and without running water, many young people say they are not looking forward to big changes.

Mr. Diallo, a street cleaner, said he wanted to join his brothers in Paris. He played video on his phone of himself and dozens of others in the Atlantic Ocean last summer, when he made two unsuccessful attempts to reach Europe.

A few feet away, 18-year-old Barra Gassama watched “The Captain,” sometimes with tears in her eyes. Ten years ago, he said, he picked up the phone at home and heard a stranger say that his brother had died on the way to Spain. “That phone call changed our lives,” he whispered. “It reminds me so much of him,” he added, staring at the screen.

Despite his brother’s death, Mr Gassama’s mother later encouraged him to try to leave. But he said he instead chose to try making bread at home, working his way up to $6 a day as a baker, working six days a week.

In the film, Seydoux and Moussa leave Dakar without telling their families. But some who watched the video said they were having open conversations with relatives about immigration.

Pape Alioune Ngom, 18, a welder, said hours before the screening that he was trying to convince his parents to let him go to Europe. He vowed that he would not leave without their blessing. “What do we have here?” he asked. “We all have the idea of ​​immigrating.”

study Studies show that eager immigrants often ignore warnings about the dangers of trying to enter the country illegally. But director Gallon said the film’s purpose is not to dissuade people from taking the trip.

“My main hope is to help young people in Senegal realize that once they leave home, they become part of a system that they can’t really escape,” he said.

To map the system of smugglers and exploitation, Mr. Gallon collaborated with Mamadou Kouassi, a social worker currently working with migrants in Italy who spent Three and a half years trying to reach Europe from his native Ivory Coast. Mr. Kouasi’s experience inspired much of Seydoux and Moussa’s storyline in the film.

Mr. Kouasi, who also attended the screening, stared at the audience, who laughed at the two young heroes as they tried to hide the cash inside their bodies before embarking on a journey across the Sahara Desert.

“They don’t know how Europe and Italy treat us,” Mr. Cusi said.

The first tragedy in the film occurs not long after, when a migrant falls out of a pickup truck and the driver continues racing through the desert, while other passengers panic and grab sticks to avoid the same fate.

The audience was silent.

Seydou Sarr, 19, and Moustapha Fall, 20, the two actors who play cousins ​​in the film, have been touring film festivals in the West, Wear designer clothes to the Oscars and relax in luxury hotels across Europe, a world away from it all. They themselves left a few years ago and live in Senegal. Their journey was a little different; they were cast in Dakar and later moved to Italy, where Mr. Gallon lives.

Mr. Sal, who won the best young actor award at the Venice Film Festival, said he wanted to continue acting.

They currently live in Rome with Mr Gallon’s mother, who said he was worried about them. “They get up at 3 p.m. and my mom cooks for them and does everything,” he said. “They’re still kids.”

After the screening, actress Ndeye Khady Sy, who plays Seydoux’s mother, urged viewers to stay in Senegal. “You can be successful here,” she said.

But Mr. Ngom, the welder, has left the basketball court.

So does Mr. Diallo, a street cleaner who says he will try to reach Europe for a third time this summer.

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