Sea of Ash
11 minutes 30 seconds
HD Video, 25 fps, stereo
Edition 5 + 2 A.P.

Written, directed and edited - Michael MacGarry
Executive Producer - Michael MacGarry
Featuring - Pape Babacar Kebe
Cinematography - Robert Wilson, Michael MacGarry
Original Score - Markus Wormstorm
Visual FX - Christo Jansen Niemand

Filmed on location in Bassano del Grappa, Milano, Venice and Lido Island - Italy.


A poetic re-imagining of Death in Venice, featuring a West African immigrant to Italy who embarks on a journey from the Alpine mountains to the seaside and ultimately, on a doomed voyage home.

The form of the film is one of a fable, that grafts Thomas Mann’s 1925 novella, Death in Venice, to the contemporary issue of African refugees and immigrants in Italy. The film takes Mann’s book as a nexus point and expands upon a number of themes inherent in it. In Sea of Ash, Mann’s character Tadzio is an immigrant to Italy from West Africa (Senegal) who has survived the treacherous and often fatal journey by sea. While the lead character of the original – von Aschenbach – is embodied in the unseen filmmaker himself.

The narrative of the film follows Tadzio on a short journey from the remarkable Brion Cemetery at San Vito in the mountains of Northern Italy to the coastal area of the Venetian lagoon. On Lido Island he visits the famous Hotel dés Bains as featured in Luchino Visconti’s 1971 film version of Death in Venice. The film concludes on the dés Baines beach, with Tadzio embarking on a doomed attempt to return home.


14th International Festival Signes de Nuit, Bangkok, 2016 - Jury Prize for the Signs Award (Section Short Films). The Signs Award honors films that treat an important subject in an original and convincing way.

Jury Statement :

“In 1983, Gayatri C. Spivak, a great and highly respected thinker, asked an influential question in her essential essay Can the Subaltern Speak?. Although the question itself was not rhetoric, the proper answers are still waiting to appear. Today where the issues about refugees, asylum seekers, and immigration are global phenomenon, this thirty-three-year-old question somehow never loses its relevance. Since the last decade, images of refugees have been flooding the media. Ethical questions have been continuously going on asked how and in which ways we should represent them. Objects of pity, often under documentary-approach or neorealistic lenses, refugees are portrayed as totally helpless victims without any agency only waiting for rescue from other ‘fortunate and privileged’ people. The supposed reality captured through filmmaker’s technical mastery, is mistaken for the Real and this hasn’t done those who suffer from forced migration any benefit. Sea of Ash evades the ideal of the complete capture of the Real and seeks, instead, an alternative way to portray the issue. The film somehow transcends the stereotypical image of the refugee toward something new and unexpected. Can the Subaltern Speak? is not a question demanding only one correct answer. There’s never only one most proper way of speaking for and about the subaltern; however, Sea of Ash is one of the numerous voices to arise here today as an answer."


27th Carthage Film Festival, Tunis, Tunisia
shnit International Shortfilmfestival 2016
Film Africa - Royal African Society, London 2016
14th Afrika Film Festival, Cologne
14th International Festival Signes de Nuit, Tucumán, Argentina 2016
17th Lucania Film Festival - Pisticci, Italy 2016
Le Rencontres Internationales - Paris and Berlin 2016
14th International Festival Zeichen der Nacht, Bangkok, Thailand (Jury Award: Special Mention, Sign Awards)
14th International Festival Signes de Nuit, Berlin