Film documents refugees’ journeys to Italy, struggles with asylum applications in shelter
“Hotel Splendid,” a documentary about African asylum seekers in Italy, was screened in a Wednesday event sponsored by the Italian Studies program, the Mandel Center for the Humanities and I Am Global Week. Directed by Mauro Bucci, an Italian director, writer and cinematographer, the film shed a light on the “profound story of an African community that lives in an Italian tourist hotel turned into an emergency camp for refugees,” according to the event description.
The documentary is described as “an intimate and collective portrayal of life in a community of migrants from the African coasts who are living in a reception center for asylum seekers” on its website. “It is an unprecedented glimpse into the daily experiences and operation of an Italian hotel turned into an emergency camp for refugees,” the website says.
The film portrays the different segments of the young asylum seekers’ journey to Italy. Throughout the film, young men from different African countries tell their individual stories. The stories focus on three different parts of their travels: the journey to Libya, through Libya and across the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Italy. The men’s stories involve violence and abuse, being robbed, kidnapped, and tortured in Libyan prisons and trying several times to cross the Mediterranean.
While the asylum seekers tell their stories of coming to Italy, the film simultaneously illustrates their present lives in a hotel that had been turned into a refugee camp. The hotel includes a kitchen in which the administration and refugees cooked together from time to time, bedrooms that refugees share, a garden-like courtyard and big rooms used as classrooms for refugees. In these classes, the refugees learn Italian and practice answering interview questions for their asylum applications.
While doing this, the refugees express that they sometimes feel hopeless. All of them want to work and make money to save for the future or to send their families back at home, and they feel trapped and helpless in the hotel. The documentary captures moments when some refugees complain to the hotel’s administration about being unable to work.
As refugees tell their story of arrival to Italy, time is passing in the documentary, and at the end of the film, the director finally reveals the results of the applications. Most of the refugees who shared their stories do not get a positive result: their applications are denied.
In a Q&A session after the film, Bucci told the audience that he avoided capturing the refugees’ emotional reactions to having their applications denied, out of respect for them.