Europa follows Kamal, a young Iraqi man migrating into Europe on foot. Merciless wilderness and human corruption combine to discourage him from crossing the dangerous border between Turkey and Bulgaria.
Captured by a group of Bulgarian vigilantes calling themselves Migrant Hunters, Kamal manages to escape and run for his life but the next encounter may be doom or salvation.
We had a chat with Adam Ali who plays Kamal in the film, and asked him all about his experiences shooting the thrilling and thought-provoking film!
You have a background in improv, attending improv groups when you were growing up in Manchester. Did that help at all when shooting Europa? Was the director, Haider Rashid, open to you going off script?
Yeah, improv was a big part of my approach, because I had to ensure that I was receptive to the environment around me. We were smack bang in the middle of a very dense forest in Tuscany and had no option but to surrender to nature at times. For instance, on our first day on set, the weather was torrential rain and it was absolutely impossible to film. But it’s what you sign up for when you are filming in such an extreme environment, and it did inform my performance in a way, because I had no option but to respond to the world around me.
There's a scene where I jump on a huge tree and I’ve never done that before. There was no way to know what was going to happen, if a spider was going to crawl across the branch or whatever else. It’s the polar opposite to when actors complain about shooting on these big sets with green screens. We were just parachuted into this world and had to adapt the same way Kamal does in the film.
You recently starred in Apple TV’s Little America and co-created a short film called Baba that will premiere at BFI Flare next spring. How important are stories that champion inclusion and diversity?
Activism is something that’s really important to me. It’s something I’ve almost inherited, because my mum is heavily involved in the United Nations and it’s something I’ve always grown up and admired. Adversity was always around me growing up so I had no option but to take action. This is something many POC actors and people that have grown up in third world countries will have experienced. You realise that you’re so fortunate and safe to live somewhere where you can speak freely about how you feel and have free creative liberty.
That’s why I try to incorporate activism in to everything I do because I feel very privileged and lucky; I’m incredibly passionate about queer rights and raising awareness about the refugee crisis we have currently in the world. I’m also really excited about Baba because it’s Libya’s first LGBT film, so it’s a huge conversation starter and turning point in Libya’s queer cinema history, so I’m glad that I could be part of that.
The film rarely breaks from your character’s perspective and features minimal dialogue. How much of a challenge was it as an actor and did you feel a lot of pressure to command the audience’s attention for the whole running time and communicate almost entirely through your physicality?
I got incredibly close with our DOP (Director of Photography) and I sort of saw it as choreography, which helped me reduce my anxiety around the proximity I had with the camera throughout the film. My background is in dance and that made the entire experience really rhythmical, in that I was thinking about the movement and timing of landing on certain marks.
As far as having the camera so close to my face, you just don’t think about it. I avoided watching playback because I didn’t want to get in my own head about insecurities. In my mind I saw it as a duet with the camera and that made it a lot easier for me.
It looks like it was a physically demanding role, how did you prepare for that aspect of the film?
Yes absolutely! From the very beginning to the very end, my entire body was sore. I had bruises over my entire body. It was as physically challenging as it looks, but it’s great as an actor when you can be pushed out of your comfort zone. I feel the more demanding a role is and the more it asks of you, the less you have to think about and worry about because you are so consumed and occupied in the scene that you don’t think about other things.
Though it was nice when I had moments of stillness, you realise the extent of the horror that this is reality for someone. There’s a particular moment of stillness when I’m at the very top of a tree. I remember looking down at the crew and thinking I feel so safe right now, but the real Kamal didn’t have dozens of people hovering beneath him to catch him if he fell.
I would also stretch before and after. I remember always asking people if I could sneak away and sleep in between takes; I’ve never slept so much in my entire life. My best recommendation for any actor is get into power naps. It’s a godsend between takes especially on extremely long days on location!
Europa is screening in-person at #EdFilmFest on Sunday 22 August at 9.20pm. The film is also available to watch online on Filmhouse at Home.