About The Film

The idea for this film occurred to me 15 years ago when I came to Vienna—after fleeing a war—at the age of 17. This alternative perspective, this clash of different worlds and expectations, the simultaneous existence of numerous realities has stayed with me to the present day. I feel privileged to use the means available to me now, film, to provide time and space for a discussion of this topic.

In the research phase of the film, there was already a director’s note with all the intentions, ideas and visions with which the filming commenced. However, little by little, during the 80 days of shooting and more than 15,000 kilometers of travel over a period of almost two years, the theoretical concept turned into an intense, true-to-life experience, a complete immersion into the world of the young people portrayed in this film.

The greatest task revolved around the attempt to show on film this open-spiritedness, the absurdity of their daily encounters, the tears as well as the joys with as little commentary as possible. The recurring questions at the end of day’s shooting were: “Did the material we filmed reflect what we saw? Is it possible to communicate it, represent it? What did the camera see of all this? Is it even possible to show the shock, outrage and the resulting conclusions in a documentary without commentary?” One thing was clear: The story would be told in situations and moods, without interviews; the conversations would be incidental; we will see how these people communicate with each other and what their relationships are.

This was only possible after a great deal of preparations and continuous contact, in the course of which a certain familiarity with the protagonists developed; as a result, they were able to relax and act natural, like in daily life, while being filmed. The film is intended to be an offer to the audience, an offer and an invitation, which we—the team—were privileged to accept in your place.

From more than 120 hours of footage, which were turned into a 94-minute documentary following an intensive editing process, everyone in the audience should be able to think out the whole story to its conclusion. There was never a desire to explain, explicate or provide clever thoughts on the topic from the omniscient film, so to speak. Our intention was to capture an impression of the whole by means of associations, which is much more transparent and profound than it could ever be with the help of comments or by looking from the outside in.
As a result, it was possible to create space for the energy and also the impudence of young people, who are always exuberant and surprising in the little things—and to do so even in the most difficult situations, such as the ones where sheer survival is concerned.

Finding an acceptable way of filming people who live in a constant state of emergency presented the greatest challenge. These are individuals who are denied necessities such as safety, freedom and rights. We wanted to participate in truthful situations without looking through a keyhole, to let images develop in harmony with the individuals and the film itself. Finally, the task was also a quest during which it was necessary to provide time and space for ever-changing situations and surprises.

Over time, this project had less and less to do with the classic rules of filmmaking and more with life itself, and even more so, with the question of what film can ultimately achieve.
And the answer was: communicate. Film should communicate.

On Obstacles—What You Won’t See In This Film

Two issues repeatedly surfaced during the work on “Little Alien”: first, the struggle to obtain film permits and the opportunity to shoot this film at all, and second, the question of the refugees’ ages. Both represented doubts which were brought to the film from the outside. And both go to show how even the idea of reporting about things that are ignored or covered up is regarded as provocation, something which doesn’t even stop with those who believe themselves to be politically correct.

A brief report:
After days of talks and negotiations we were given permits to film that contained more restrictions than actual permissions. In public places, where a permit is not usually required, the shoots were constantly interrupted by police controls under various pretexts. We quickly realized that with the camera, i.e. the “red light,” we drew attention to things that were supposed to remain hidden. This is one of the statements that we heard repeatedly from the “authorities”: “This topic is very often misunderstood, so we have to be careful, since we only want the best for these teenagers.”

And certain scenes repeated themselves as well:
We asked teenagers if we could film something with them on camera. They replied: “Yes, of course, as long as my hair looks OK.” But we shot and worked under tight restrictions, which affected the teenagers as much as it did us. The film was being enclosed and confined, a (border) fence made of rules was erected around us. Every day, the film and its crew had to find a new hideout. Officials from the various ministries told us that, in all likelihood, we wouldn’t even have any actual teenagers in our film since they almost certainly falsified their age in order to gain advantages during the application procedures.

We thought about this: How should we select young people if we don’t know how old they really are? The authorities usually send them for magnetic resonance imaging and to a physician who is supposed to determine their age after a 20-minute interview.

During the course of our research, we met experienced, scientifically oriented physicians who told us that not even a genetic test could determine a person’s precise age. When they’re young, deviations of up to two years are possible.
And so there are teenagers in our film who look younger or older than they actually are. The question of their age was asked even after the completion of “Little Alien” because nobody could imagine children and young adults in such situations.

Many things can be put on from “outside,” but much to our delight, not appearances.

About the Theme

Young girls and boys from Central Africa and eastern Central Asia flee from their homes to come to Europe, tempted by its glitter, hungry for a safe place to live, or just survive.
Once upon a time this was all very different.
The supreme commander had to disguise himself as a bull, grab the girl—daughter of the Phoenician king—and swim halfway across the Mediterranean with her on his back. In the end he seduced her. That’s how this girl, named Europa, came to our part of the world and gave it its name, “the best of all worlds.”

Today, young foreigners are no longer abducted and taken to Europe. They aren’t being invited either. Young foreigners are prevented from even approaching it. Europe employs people to protect its borders, its peace and its standards. The citizens of Europe live in fear of foreigners who might take away their wealth, their security, their traditional values. This fear corresponds to the propaganda of their political leaders. Little aliens, however, still manage to climb over the wall and through the fences and accept the abstract game of rules and regulations and the struggle with the endless wait.

For them, this means that the following is perfectly legal according to European laws:

- beatings
- arrest
- being denied gainful employment
- being denied an education
- being denied equal rights
- being denied a place to live

These young men and women left their worlds behind. They risked life and limb—and once here, they’re being forced to bear the unbearable once again.

We saw how the system can’t keep these foreign teenagers, many of them deeply traumatized, from living their lives, not even with laws and clever legal manipulation.

We discovered how they still manage to laugh, move around with confidence, with friends they made on the roads of silk, tea and coffee; how they celebrate youth. Those friendships are treasures, substitutes for family, enjoyment and play.
And they have invited us, in your place: Please come in, take a seat, spend 90 minutes with us, Nura, Ahmed, Asha, Jawid, Achmad and Alem.


Nina Kusturica, Vienna, March 2009