BEASTS OF NO NATION
by writer/director Cary Joji Fukunaga
Beasts of No Nation is based on the Nigerian novel of the same name, and tells the story of a child whose life is overturned in the tumult of a civil war in a nameless West African country and forced to become a soldier. Because this film treads on a real subject and uses many non-actors, it has the potential to affect not only the lives of the viewers but also the lives of the participants of the production.
As Beasts of No Nation is about children and war, we needed dozens of young boys to take part in the production alongside former combatants from the conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Most of the children were found in street castings in impoverished neighborhoods in Ghana where we were looking for the most charismatic to interpret the roles. Using non-actors is a powerful resource in re-creating authentic socio-political dramas, but the participants have no idea how their lives are about to be changed by the production and the attention that comes following the release of the film.
In that sense, as much as a film is an incredible opportunity for a young actor, it can also be a once in a life-time anomaly. The actors who play Strika and Justice lived on the street prior to production. There was no way we could, in good conscience, make this film and then promptly drop them off back on the street once the production was over. Here we had an opportunity to make a difference. Daniel Crown, whose company produced the film, has been financing their education (along with our lead, Abraham Attah) and boarding them since the day we left Ghana. This isn’t his responsibility, it’s a choice, and a choice driven by the instinctual responsibility to protect the people we have worked with and come to care for despite the inherently exploitative nature of filmmaking.
Between failure and success, success might not really exist. You cannot tie these productions and their subjects into tight little bows and say, 'look we solved a problem facing humanity'. But we make our humble offerings, both in terms of a work of fiction that transcends borders and in more direct human connections that will hopefully last as long as we can endure them. It never feels like enough, but had the film never existed, no lives would have been changed and no one would have benefitted from it.