With a cast comprised largely of non-actors and a shooting location ill-equipped to handle a production of its magnitude, “Beasts of No Nation” was truly a labor of love for all involved. As producers Daniela Taplin Lundberg and Riva Marker reveal in our recent webcam chat (watch below) their involvement began after founding production company Red Crown with fellow producer Daniel Crown. The three were looking for directors to work with and set their sights on Cary Fukunaga, at that time still relatively unknown.
“We had been so impressed by ‘Sin Nombre,’” raves Lundberg about Fukunaga's debut feature. “[We] just sort of felt that he was a star on the rise, and that if we could somehow manage to work with him before the entire world discovered him, it would be great for us.
This brought them to “Beasts,” a passion project Fukunaga had been trying to get off the ground for several years. “It’s rare to read something where you feel like at once you’re learning something that you don’t know and seeing a world you haven’t explored, or you haven’t seen explored in a way that’s so artistic and eloquent and beautiful,” said Marker of the script. “Despite all of the natural production complications that were on the page, it was something that I think Daniela and I and Dan [said], ‘we want to jump into this.’”
Indeed, the story of a young boy (Abraham Attah) who becomes a child soldier fighting in an unnamed African country, presented many logistical challenges for an independent production. “There’s so many sort of harrowing anecdotes,” admits Lundberg. “Everybody’s seen the ‘Heart of Darkness’ documentary for ‘Apocalypse Now:’ we like to draw that comparison.” From shooting in the harsh, humid jungle to securing military grade vehicles and equipment, nothing for the crew was easy.
Yet despite it all, the filmmakers persevered, with Fukunaga as their fearless leader. “Cary is sort of this great adventurer,” says Lundburg, “and has been to every part of the world. So he sort of went into this jungle and was completely calm and confident in the fact that we were going to accomplish this movie. I wouldn’t say it put everyone else at ease, but we sort of just all followed him.”
Adds Marker, “Cary is a very trusting filmmaker. Unlike many people I think Daniela and I have worked with, within six weeks of coming back, he let us and Amy (Kaufman) and Dan into the editing suite, and shared a very early cut of the film with us. That’s one of the things I think we were all most struck by, is that he was really carrying the entire film on his back.”
“Beasts of No Nation” recently received an Independent Spirit nomination for Best Feature, as well as bids for Directing, Male Lead (Attah), Supporting Male (Idris Elba), and Cinematography. The film also scooped up a coveted SAG nod for Best Ensemble, further helping its Oscar chances.
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"Beasts of No Nation" photo credit: Netflix