Cary Joji Fukunaga On What He Did And Didn’t Show You In ‘Beasts of No Nation’
Cary Joji Fukunaga, director of the new Bond film “No Time to Die,” is sitting on a Zoom call. Bonds, however, are not on the menu. We’re here to talk about Fukunaga’s “Beasts of No Nation,” a groundbreaking, though not necessarily, directorial film.
To celebrate the release, Fukunaga took a memory walk with CNN. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
“Beasts of No Nation” is about a brutal civil war in an unknown West African country. Credit: Courtesy Shawn Greene / Netflix
CNN: Can you take us back before you started filming? From what I’ve read, when you set foot in Ghana, there’s more going on in the air than your average output. How much did this movie bet?
Fukunaga: I don’t know if I consider it a gamble. “Beasts” is considered my second movie. I finished the script in early 2007 before filming “Sin Nombre” (Fukuaga’s first film, released in 2009). Unfortunately, a movie came out about child soldiers – a very different treatment to it – and it didn’t do well internationally. I think that made Focus Features feel uncomfortable doing “Beasts” and I went on to do “Jane Eyre” instead. But I never gave up making that movie. When I was on “True Detective,” Idris Elba became a potential choice to play the Commandant – that would essentially brighten the movie up. (The late producer) Steve Golin facilitated the call and I spoke to Idris and he signed right there. Next spring, all of us in Ghana do it together.
CNN: You’ve got experienced actors like Elba alongside first-time actors, hired through street casting. How much of that keeps you on your toes? And as a director, what do you have to do to make sure everyone gets what they need?
Fukunaga: I always knew I would hire mostly unknown people. What I did was form a small troupe. We took all the kids we thought were charismatic or potential and did a few weeks of workshops with them. And then out of those kids, basically pick all the different kids that ended up in the movie.
Emmanuel Affadzi as Dike, one of the young actors in “Beasts of No Nation.” Credit: Courtesy Criteria Collection
We continued that workshop until halfway through production, just so we could analyze the footage and help them get comfortable with what acting was all about. The age of these kids is tough, because you’re just right at that point of adolescence when the sense of self begins to creep in, and that makes it hard to perform naturally. much more. But we went right to them and had some great performances.
CNN: Watching the movie again, it was more violent than I remembered. But he didn’t like it for a moment. I wonder if this movie has influenced your attitude towards portraying violence on screen in later projects?
Fukunaga: A lot of the violence takes place off-camera. The camera can replay it, but the exact moment of violence, sometimes it’s just on the edge – but you feel it anyway. In both “Sin Nombre” and “Beasts”, I retracted the violence. During the war, the treatment of prisoners and wounds in battle was much more brutal than what I was showing on screen.
I think violence, similar to sex, you don’t really have to show it on camera. It is largely unimportant to the story and characters. Once these are implied, once we as a spectator understand the reality, it’s like, “Okay, we get it, we can move on.” There’s no reason to necessarily linger on it as a stalker.
CNN: And how do you strike that balance of giving your audience enough of a sense of the moment without overwhelming them?
Fukunaga: I think if you really show how brutal life is, you’ll lose the audience. They will be completely paralyzed, or they will not be able to stand it and will have to leave. War is perhaps one of the most devastating things that people don’t see anymore. There are more pictures, I would say 30, 50, 60 years ago. In fact, much of death is hidden from our daily lives. Looks like we’re not prepared to review it.
Abraham Attah as Agu, the child soldier at the heart of “Beasts of No Nation.” Credit: Courtesy Criteria Collection
CNN: “Beasts” is the first season of Netflix. It also took them into new territory in terms of marketing and promotion. Looking back, how do you feel it all went?
Funukaga: (Sigh.) I think the film would be viewed completely differently from the industry awards perspective if we used a more traditional theatrical film. I think it will also disappear quickly. When (Netflix CEO) Ted Sarandos gave me his final greetings, I remember thinking, “Okay, if we go this route, it could mean we’re going to end up going this way. never received an award for this movie. But the flip side of it is that more people will see this movie” – and I mean 10 times, 100 times, 1,000 times more.
For me, in terms of filmmaking philosophy, it’s important to take issues that are happening around the world and turn them into a format that can be viewed in a way that has far more emotional impact than a post. newspaper or headline, and to have that lasting emotional memory. To achieve that goal, it is necessary to see as many people as possible. So in the end, I made the Netflix decision. And I’m so grateful; I think they did an amazing job promoting that movie.
CNN: You are the point of the spear. Did the filmmakers talk to you about how you broke down the door to let others go down this path?
Fukunaga: We also broke the door on still maintaining a cinematic release – we already have a release date and date. I think other filmmakers since then might have fought for window separation, and I think separate (release) windows are still very important. Having a (only) movie in the cinema compels everyone to go see it in the best possible way. And I still think watching a movie in a movie theater, with an audience, surrounded by the audience’s contagious energy, is the only way to really feel the full impact of a movie.
Cary Joji Fukunaga attends the premiere of “No Time To Die” in London, September 2021. Fukunaga is directing the latest installment in the James Bond franchise. Credit: Jeff Spicer / Getty Images Europe / Getty Images for EON Productions
CNN: Shooting locations can be a bit like a traveling circus. What legacy has the production left behind?
Fukunaga: The Ghana side is quite strong. I still get messages on Instagram from some actors and kids. Those who were part of the crew went on to direct themselves in Ghana. Eventually, Abraham came to America after producing and studying at a Connecticut boarding school that Ted Sarandos attended. He went on to work on “Spider-man (Homecoming)” and a few other projects. Then this year he will start as a freshman at Tufts University. He worked so hard to get here – nothing was given to him.
CNN: Every movie leaves its mark on its director. What did this leave you with?
Fukunaga: It’s a story that I lived with for 10 years at the time I made it. I met a lot of people in the process, veterans, former commanders. The lives of the children we changed as part of the project. The experience remains one of the most incredible I’ve ever had, in terms of filmmaking. For a short amount of time, you are creating something that will become immortal; capture that moment, not only of our lives but of these fictional characters’. I think it’s still one of the most important movies I’ve ever made.