‘Europa’ Director Haider Rashid on Making a ‘Thriller With a Conscience’ and What the Afghanistan Crisis Means For Refugees
Art and Experience:
“Europa” director Haider Rashid was shocked when he first read about the dangers encountered by migrants on the Balkan route, a well-trod passage from Turkey to Eastern Europe undertaken by many thousands of people hoping to reach the West each year. That shock became the genesis for “Europa,” which offers a glimpse into the life of a young, nameless migrant (played by British actor Adam Ali) fighting for his life in the unforgiving forests of Bulgaria.
The themes of the film, which, Variety can exclusively reveal, is being distributed in the U.K. by Bulldog Film Distribution following its British premiere at the Edinburgh Intl. Film Festival, resonate for Rashid in terms of both the past and the future. Not only did Rashid’s own father find himself on the Balkan route while fleeing Iraq in 1978 but, as he points out, the current crisis in Afghanistan will drive many more migrants there as they attempt to seek refuge in Europe.
Variety caught up with Rashid ahead of the film’s premiere to discuss making “a thriller with a conscience” and how he hopes “Europa” will be the first in a trilogy of films about the immigrant experience.
How much of Adam Ali’s character’s journey in “Europa” is based on real events?
Everything that’s in the film was either told to us in first person accounts or by human rights lawyers, former public officials or we discussed with some human rights organizations and had access to their reports. So we tried to be as close as possible to reality. We had to build a story with a structure but pretty much everything that takes place in the film is coming from real life. It’s a journey that takes place every day. And now with the situation in Afghanistan it’s going to be even worse.
How many actors did you see before casting Adam?
I didn’t see that many people. I knew what I was looking for and then when I saw Adam it was pretty clear that he had certain things that were necessary: he’s young and he has a very a fragile nature but then he brings out this really great strength that comes out in the film and his face […] it’s a ‘silent movie’ face. Because the film has very little dialogue – it’s all action and all close-ups and stuff, so somehow it clicked. And also the personal aspect of his life. I’m half Iraqi, half Italian – [Adam] is British of Libyan origin. So he has gone through certain emotional passages in a way in his life with acceptance and feeling different. And he brought some of his own stuff to the film; there’s that song that he sings, that his mother used to sing to him when he was a kid. Although we didn’t have much time to prepare and shoot the film it was always about trying to find elements that could enrich the “thriller” structure of the film. We wanted to make a thriller with a conscience.
The audience is left in the dark about what will happen to Adam’s character – whether he will succeed or succumb to tragedy. Why did you decide to make the ending so ambiguous?
The thing is, there’s really no end to such a journey, and I see that in my family as well, even when things seem to be going great and that everything is settled, you know, there’s always something – when you’re an immigrant, there’s always something waiting around the corner. And to me, it was really important to make sure that it was clear for the audience that this is just a small part of the journey, there’s a lot that’s happened before we don’t know and there’s a lot that’s going to happen after. And of course, if [Adam’s character] does reach Europe, if he does reach a city of some sort, even if he finds that safety and has a momentary calm in his life, something else might happen.
I always like to leave things open-ended, because I think it’s the way to leave the audience with some questions and make them think a little more. But one thing we knew was we shouldn’t make it too pessimistic because the people who travel [through the Balkan route], they try 10 times, 20 times, they never lose hope. So that was one responsibility that we had: not to close the story but to make that something positive could happen in it.
What are you working on next?
So I think “Europa” is the first in a sort of thematic trilogy that’s not necessarily going to speak about the same character but I think there’s the need, from my point of view and also in the market, to talk more about this issue in a certain way that can also maybe make it – although it’s a difficult film, it’s not an easy film [to digest] – but for some audiences it maybe makes [the topic of immigration] a bit more accessible. So I think this is going to be the next step, to work on the second of this thematic trilogy. And it’s going to be a different place, different character, but still in Europe somewhere else. And it’s in a way connected but different. Same universe, same style, but we’re going from the actual jungle to a concrete jungle.
This interview has been edited and condensed.