In the summer of 2006, Ethiopian born Dagmawi Yimer departed Libya for Lampedusa by boat. A year later, following a film-making course in Rome, he, and five other migrants co-authored The Desert and the Sea (Il Deserto e il Mare). Eight years on from his arrival on Lampedusa, and following the international success of Like a Man on Earth (Como un uomo sulla terra), Yimer has produced another poignant account of migrants’ realities in Italian cities.
While Like a Man on Earth (Como un uomo sulla terra) was based on Yimer’s own migration journey from Ethiopia, his most recent cinematic contribution Va’ Pensiero. Walking Stories (Storie abulanti)tells the dramatic stories of three different men – Mohamed Ba, Mor Sougou and Cheik Mbeng. All three living in Italy but of Senegalese origin; all three brutally attacked in their ‘new home’.
Through the skilful interweaving of Ba, Sougou and Mbeng’s stories, Yimer reveals the realities of racially motivated violence in Italy, which he explains, “generally gets a two-line mention in the press and is never told from the victim’s point of view”. The film delicately portrays the enduring fear and pain felt through the eyes of the victims. Performer and teacher Mohamed Ba describing how he was left to bleed in the street as passers-by fled after he was stabbed in May 2009. He describes how the police failed to follow it up as the institutions turned their heads. Not surprising his wife, Chiara, explains that the experience changed her husband, as Milan, his home for over a decade, became the place where a black African man can be attacked without cause or reason and then abandoned by witnesses and justice alike. The equally harrowing stories of Sougou and Mbeng, shot in the back while working in Piazza Dalmazia, Florence, in 2011, reinforce this message. As Mbeng explains, the worst thing was that the gunman did not know him, had no reason to shoot him or the other migrants attacked, except for their African origins.