When we learned that rising talent Karim Kassem secured a role in Luxembourg-based production Sawah, we were eager to find out more. Sawah tells the tale of a young Egyptian DJ named Samir who is mistaken for an illegal immigrant and detained in a country he’s never heard of before while on his way to a championship in Brussels. We caught up with Kassem to learn more about the project and what the audience can expect.
CWM: Playing the role of a DJ must have been a different experience for you, how did you prepare?
K.K: I took private DJ classes, and the production also enrolled me into a professional DJ academy in Luxembourg and I took 18 hours of classes there. I believe I reached a good level and the work is believable, we did a lot of rehearsal and script rewrites. Adolf El Assal, the writer and director, is very open to collaborative work. Nothing is set in stone, and the dialogue was changing to suit what the scene needed. In terms of Samir’s character, I could relate on a personal level to his need to break out and move out of the country to experience work abroad. The whole tension of the film, being lost in a foreign country with no passport, no wallet and no phone – that’s a personal fear and paranoia of mine, so I could use that to make the character relatable.
What were the most challenging scenes to shoot for you?
The most challenging part of the production was nature and shooting outdoors in the cold! I didn’t expect to be so paralyzed from Luxembourg’s weather, in some scenes I was freezing to death and stuttering from the cold. The crew tried to layer me up with thermal clothing and portable heating, but filming over 10 hours in the cold every day for two months is really challenging. There were also a lot of scenes in French, and although I’m a fluent French speaker, I had to pretend I didn’t understand a thing!
What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
The main theme of the film is identity and how this character is treated like a refugee, although he’s not. It is about breaking the stereotype of Hamam fi Amsterdam, a character who is lost and doesn’t understand a thing, because Samir is an educated and English-speaking Egyptian, but at the same time, he is treated as a refugee. It’s a relevant topic right now with the political climate and immigration debates happening in Europe, and this movie tackles the subject in a humorous and powerful way.
How did taking part in the film change your perspective professionally and personally?
On a professional level, it was a wonderful experience to work with such a diverse and talented multi-cultural international cast and crew – I learned a lot being on set in Europe and seeing the way film production runs there. On a personal level, I had the chance to discover this beautiful country I’ve never been to before and meet people from all over the world.
I love South American, Spanish, and Italian music.
Film legends you look up to?
Daniel-Day Lewis, Denzel Washingston, Anthony Hopkins … so many!
Best piece of advice you received?
Invest in yourself and your mind. That’s how you’re going to make everything happen.
What’s your comfort food?
I have a major sweet tooth … I love dried mangoes.