Who are we? Why are we here? Where do we come from? And, most importantly, are we alone?
These tough philosophical questions are probed in the sci-fi found-footage procedural thriller Europa Report, a commendably cerebral and technically elegant lo-fi achievement. The film, currently available on VOD, iTunes and Google Play and in theaters August 2nd from Magnolia Pictures, is directed by celebrated Ecuadorian filmmaker Sebastian Cordero, and stars District 9 actor Sharlto Copley and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009)’s Michael Nyqvist. Luckily, Cordero spoke to Diabolique to provide some insight on his existential and extraterrestrial excursion…
DIABOLIQUE: What made you want to tackle a sci-fi film and do you feel working on a lower budget helped the process?
SEBASTIAN CORDERO: Originally, I didn’t have any intention of doing a sci-fi movie, but when I read the screenplay for Europa Report, I felt it did an amazing job in balancing a very strong and gripping story with a very realistic approach. That really did it for me. It also brought back memories of my teenage years when I would devour Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury’s short stories, but the fact that it was all constructed around real scientific information was what made Europa Report unique for me.
As for the lower budget, strangely enough, I’m a strong believer that the limitations you’re faced with when directing a movie and how you tackle them become the elements that eventually define your style. The fact that I come from a country that doesn’t have a strong film industry has always put me in the mindset of trying to find creative ways to solve problems with limited resources. Europa Report is the biggest film I’ve directed so far, and it’s very ambitious, but it was also the shortest shoot. [We shot the film in] only 19 days, including miniature and green screen days!
In fact, the whole concept of shooting the interiors of the spaceship from 8 different cameras that were built into the set came from a need to shoot extremely quickly, while also allowing for the actors to have a uniquely immersive experience.
DIABOLIQUE: Did you have any preconceived notions about incorporating the Europa Ventures footage with the spacecraft footage?
CORDERO: We knew from the start that the film would be a faux-documentary, but we allowed for many elements to develop during the editing and post-production process. In the same way that a documentary allows you “find your story” in the editing room, we started playing with a lot of external elements to see how much of that would work with the rest of the film. Ultimately, we stuck to our talking heads elements with the planners behind the mission and the footage of the spacecraft being assembled and taking off; all of which were needed to tell the story without removing the audience too much from the essence of what the film was about.
DIABOLIQUE: Were you consciously influenced by any of the found-footage pictures or previous sci-fi films?
CORDERO: Our “found-footage” visual language is very different from what’s been done usually within this sub-genre, which is usually degraded home-video material, so I didn’t feel we needed to reference other “found-footage” films. However, I knew very well that when a “found-footage” film breaks its own rules, it simply falls apart, so I made sure we always used ONLY the cameras that exist in the ship, even if it felt limiting at times. At first it felt like this might become too repetitive, but soon enough, you realize you have a different set of tools that you can use, which give you a tremendous amount of tension while contributing to the story. For instance, if a camera’s focusing system breaks down, the image you will see from then on from that angle will be out of focus, which would be completely unacceptable in any other film, but here we can play with not seeing properly through one of our hero’s angles, and that actually enhances our story, making the third act become so much more tense.
There are obvious influences when making a sci-fi film, such as Kubrick’s 2001, Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Danny Boyles’ Sunshine, but they all deal with a completely different conceit and approach. Actually, my biggest reference from day one was the Al Reinert documentary For All Mankind, about the Apollo missions, which is the most powerful piece of film I’ve seen about space travel. Everyone in the cast and crew had to see that the minute they came on board.
DIABOLIQUE: Was capturing the science accurately an important factor to you?
CORDERO: Absolutely essential. Having accurate science was the only way this movie could work. Our universe is so much more fascinating and intriguing than anything we could make up in fiction, so my approach from the beginning was to use all these real elements and play with them within the film. Also, by having great science consultants from JPL, Nasa, SpaceX, etc., we made sure the film would always be anchored in reality, being ambiguous sometimes when we were dealing with things we are not certain about yet, and taking minor liberties only when it was absolutely necessary.
Now that the film is being watched by the scientific community, it’s been wonderful to see their positive reaction to what they are seeing. I didn’t consciously realize how unique this is in a film until very recently.
DIABOLIQUE: Based on the experience of making the film, do you feel you’ll make another science fiction film?
CORDERO: I would love to do another sci-fi, but not just for the sake of exploring the genre more. It has to be a great story, with good characters, and the possibility of exploring something unique as a filmmaker. You know, just like with any other movie!
Europa Report can be found in select theaters this Friday, August 2nd, from Magnolia Pictures. You can follow Sebastian on Twitter: @SCordero23. As mentioned before, you can also rent the film on VOD, iTunes and Google Play. For more on Sebastian Cordero, Magnolia Pictures and Europa Report, keep your eyes peeled here at DiaboliqueMagazine.com.
– By Jeremy Kibler
Jeremy Kibler is a freelance writer who never stops watching movies and writing about them. An alumnus of Pennsylvania State University, he has been a fan of the horror genre since he was a kid, renting every Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street from the video store. For more of Jeremy’s reviews, go to https://kibsreviews.blogspot.com/ or follow him on Twitter @jeremykibler25.