Iraqi Oscar entry reveals tragedy of migrants at Europe’s gates

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Following its Cannes Film Festival premiere earlier this year, Haider Rashid’s migrant thriller “Europa” has been shortlisted as the Iraqi nominee for Best International Feature at the upcoming Oscars. AXADLETM spoke with the Italian-Iraqi director about the humanitarian crisis at the borders of Europe and his hopes of representing Iraq at the Oscars.

A topical and chilling thriller, “Europa” offers a vivid portrait of the ordeal experienced by migrants desperate to enter Fortress Europe. Co-funded by the Iraqi and Italian Culture Ministries, among other supporters, this is the latest work on the theme of migrants from Rashid, whose father was forced to flee Saddam Hussein’s Iraq at the end of the years. 70, by taking the Balkan route which is at the center of the concerns. of his film.

“Europa” draws on first-person accounts of migrants who embarked on the perilous journey and in-depth interviews with NGO workers, human rights lawyers and government officials. He follows a young Iraqi migrant named Kamal as he tries to dodge brutal border guards and deadly migrant hunters on the Bulgarian border with Turkey.

The film’s exploratory hand-held camera traverses Kamal’s bruised and exhausted body with relentless close-ups as he runs, jumps, crawls, and rushes through trees in a frantic race for survival. The young migrant is played with haunting intensity by Adam Ali, a British actor of Libyan origin with a slender build and a face from silent films.

“Europa” has appeared at film festivals across Europe since its international premiere at the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes. AXADLETM spoke to its director ahead of the film’s Arabic premiere at the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah next week and its release in Iraqi theaters on December 10.

Your film has received critical acclaim at European festivals. How important was it to get the go-ahead from Iraq as well?

I am extremely honored to represent Iraq at the Oscars; it makes me feel welcomed and embraced by the country – and even more proud of my mixed heritage. I experienced exile by proxy through the experience of my father; It has been over forty years since he fled Iraq, but it is still part of our family life. Now I’m delighted to do something for the country, especially with “Europa”, which is a very culturally fluid film, with support from both Europe and the Arab world.

We made “Europa” as a kind of liberation from our own fears in the face of growing xenophobia and racism in Europe, but also to talk about what is happening to entire generations of young Arabs, young Iraqis, especially those born after the diet. [of Saddam Hussein] was overthrown, who grew up under extremely difficult and unstable circumstances.

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The film has been adopted by cultural institutions and filmmakers in Iraq, both for its subject matter and its approach; they appreciate its innovative character. He talks about Iraqi youth in a new way, in a country where everyone knows someone who has fled. I believe the decision to financially support the film and choose it to represent the country at the Oscars (…) shows an awareness of what is happening in Iraq and the enormous need to build a better future for it. countries, especially for young people.

“Europa” is the first joint Italian-Iraqi-Kuwaiti production. How important is Kuwait’s involvement in this project?

I think most people who were quite old back then very clearly remember living or watching the Gulf War unfold. I had the opportunity to visit Kuwait several times and I found good friends and collaborators there (…). I think it is very significant that 30 years after the war, the two countries have a good relationship of peaceful cooperation and are working together on a cultural enterprise like this film.

“Europa” is now ready for its Arabic premiere after touring European festivals. How did the audience react to your film?

The most amazing experiences came when showing the film to a younger audience, especially students. They engage in it like no other audience has: they are passionate about the character, the story and the style of the film. Their enthusiasm gave us a lot of energy, hope and some insight: it is not true that adolescents are not interested in arthouse, “social” or “political” cinema, you just need to find a way to engage them. I feel like the choices behind this film – in terms of the immersive style, which is perhaps reminiscent of certain video games, in terms of pace, but also in terms of focusing on a young character who looks like them – speak volumes. to young audiences. and make them eager to think and discuss.

The border deadlock between the EU and Belarus and the latest tragedy of migrants in the Channel, off the French coast, have they given your film extra urgency?

I think the film shows events that have urgent relevance, regardless of the border on which they take place. I got the concept for the film in 2016 and five years later the situation hasn’t changed. On the contrary, it is even worse: it is a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions that will last for decades if it is only dealt with urgently. It is a structural problem that most institutions do not really want to solve.

We’re all so used to hearing about it that it’s become normal; a lot of people are shouting for or against, but it seems distant. We created “Europa” to try to shake people up, to make them feel how close it is and how random it is that these dramatic events do not happen to them. It is just a fluke that should not be taken for granted, the history of Europe teaches us that.

From Poland to England, calls and attempts by civilians to push back migrants have become increasingly common, as politicians regularly talk about suspending or rewriting international law to keep asylum seekers at bay. . What does this say about our societies?

We have lost touch with the concept and the feeling of empathy which I believe should be at the center of any society. It’s a simple concept, which is why I think politicizing the immigration debate is the greatest gift to political forces based on populism – immigration shouldn’t be a political problem, it is a problem. human and should be approached with realism and humanity.

It is shocking to watch news about what is happening on the Polish-Belarusian border and in the English Channel, as much as it was shocking to watch images of Haitian migrants being chased by a border patrol mounted near the Rio Grande, in the United States. United and Mexico. frontier. Of course, it brings to mind moments from the film, these are desperate journeys of unnatural survival and violent pushbacks and attacks; every day lives are at risk across borders. It is inhuman and criminal treatment.

The tragic situation unfolding at the borders of Europe is referenced, documented and sometimes manipulated by a variety of actors, including journalists, activists and politicians. What is the role of cinema in the representation of this crisis?

I think cinema can help give a different perspective, a more human point of view, giving viewers a taste of someone else’s experience. Our goal with ‘Europa’ was to put the audience in the shoes of someone trying to survive through a forest as they are pursued by migrant hunters and attacked by border police forces, and to give them the opportunity to wonder how such events unfold with them. Cinema has reached a very mature period in its history, technically and artistically it can impact audiences and I think there is a responsibility in using it for human interest purposes.

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