No Man is an Island

Resting in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea is the island of Lampedusa. A gateway to both Italy and Europe, the island has become a key destination for African refugees on their journey towards a better life. While the residences of Lampedusa like to boast that the island is the land of freedom and peace, many refugees attempting to integrate into the culture do not necessarily share their same rosy view. In No Man is an Island director Tim De Keersmaecker shows that underneath the islands welcoming demeanor flows an undercurrent of racism.

In the case of Adam, a sixteen-year-old Ghanaian boy, the racism is subtle, but still noticeable. Finding a surrogate family in the employers of the hotels he cleans, Adam works hard to assimilate himself into the school system and culture. However, he is constantly reminded that he will always be an outsider. For twenty-one-year-old Omar, this sense of being an outsider is depicted through the painful loneliness he feels. Despite also finding an adoptive family of sorts, Omar’s search for true connection and companionship is met with hardship and sorrow.

Taking a meditative approach to observing the two young men, No Man is an Island’s social commentary, at times, feels too understated. Part of the issue is that Adam and Omar feel like passengers in the story rather than the drivers. Keersmaecker spends so much time focusing on the men’s adoptive father figures, who both believe they are doing a great service by taking the boys in, despite unconsciously perpetuating traits of classism themselves, that the refugee story occasionally feels like an afterthought. Which is a shame because the film really comes to life when Adam and Omar are each allowed to truly express their feelings. Omar’s journey in particular is especially heartbreaking. There is a captivating story to be told about the refugee experience in Lampedusa, one that resonates on a deep and emotional level. Unfortunately No Man is an Island, despite its potential, never reaches those heights.

Saturday, May 7, 1:00 PM, Isabel Bader Theatre

Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.