VENICE – “Beasts of No Nation’s” no holds-barred Netflix trailer shows Agu, a child soldier, hacking away at a man’s skull with a machete. So how did newcomer Abraham Attah, who played Agu, feel about playing such scenes?
Answer from Attah, coaxed by Fukunaga, was that the only time he felt fear was when he first played opposite Idris Elba. “I felt like an ant,” he joked.
Unspooling without Idris Elba, who is shooting a film in Canada, said a member of Fukunaga’s retinue at Venice, it was Attah who was the real star of the Venice press conference, sporting a lovely large smile as Fukunaga tried to tease answers out of him to show he was not traumatized as an adolescent acting in a sometimes brutally violent movie.
The highly serious tenor of the questions from a mostly Italian press showed the kind of challenge Netflix has on its hands in releasing what has been instantly regarded at Venice as a very serious arthouse film.
How did Fukunaga come to be interested in such a subject, one journalist asked, for instance. Fukunaga answered that he studied political sciences and history at university, was always interested in “geo-politics, and conflict in neo-colonial countries.”
Fukunaga’s answers show how carefully he researches his films. Agu’s initiation as a boy soldier — weapons training, propaganda, spiritual induction – was based on real-life Sierra Leone practices, he said.
Netflix’s pioneering $12 million purchase of “Beasts of No Nation” did not impact the editorial of the film, which was pretty much completed when the deal was made, Fukunaga said.
“Beasts’” limited theatrical release is, Fukunaga argued, an opportunity.
“We’re in a very interesting democratic moment in cinema attendance whereby the very nature of showing up for screenings [of such films as ‘Beasts’], we will be telling cinema exhibitors we want to see such films, rather than just attending in mass Hollywood tentpoles.”