Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

A survivor of the Lampedusa tragedy speaks in Morgan Knibbe's Shipwreck
"On that dock, in that place, the audience are made witness."

At the heart of Shipwreck is a moment of stark impressionistic reportage, a moment that is as powerful because of its simplicity as anything else. Unseen are mourners, the sounds of their grief rising above the groan of crane, the creak of straps on a jury-rigged sling. Coffins sit on a pallet, two at a time, and are lifted onto a boat at the dock. We do not see them. We do not see those who lament, we do not see the police that attend, we do not see anything but the backs of those watching, cameras held high.

We have seen, heard, other things, the ever-moving camera of Morgan Knibbe, but that moment of reflection is stunning in its power. The framing dialogue with Abraham, a survivor, a ramble through a landscape of twisted timbers, breached and broken boats, stark and painful - "not all of us have to die, you go ahead".

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Stronger because it does not give context until the end, the death by drowning of hundreds of Eritrean refugees, this the embarkation of their coffins at Lampedusa. There is one shot of a high street, cafes, nightlife, aspiration, a frame of a survivor, Abraham, among the hulls of hulks hauled high ashore, abandoned, never to sail again. There is a passenger jet, sleek in the sky, tucking its undercarriage away as it slips the surly bonds of earth to soar to some somewhere, smooth and speedy.

Below, the dock. The dock til dusk, til departing vehicles punctuate the night with feeble lights, the crane creaking, the crowd mumbling, the coffins accumulating. There are moments of mourning, small, still, tears, sobs, and larger laments - a woman runs and a policeman holds her to stop her, holds, stops, then stops her to hold her.

Shipwreck was written, directed, and edited by Knibbe. His twisting camera gyres through the concentric circles of grief, and there is a technical benefit to its unsteadiness, a constant unease of vision that echoes the mood of the crowds. Knibbe is aided by sound work by several others, by music of sorts by Carlos Dalla-Fiore, but mostly by presence - on that dock, in that place, the audience are made witness.

At Glasgow's 2015 Short Film Festival Shipwreck won the Bill Douglas award, the jury highlighted the "compassion of form and content", that it achieved "without feeling exploitative", and praised its "immersive" qualities. This is well deserved for a film that dizzies, dazzles, and should be sought out.

Reviewed on: 16 Mar 2015
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A survivor of the 2013 Lampedusa shipwreck walks through a graveyard of shipwrecks and remembers his nightmarish experience.

Director: Morgan Knibbe

Year: 2014

Runtime: 15 minutes

Country: Netherlands


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