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Cary Fukunaga and Tom McCarthy Shake Venice with ‘Beasts of No Nation’ and ‘Spotlight’

Cary Fukunaga and Tom McCarthy Shake Venice with 'Beasts of No Nation' and 'Spotlight'

Beasts of No Nation” director Cary Fukunaga sweetly took the stage with young Ghanaian Abraham Attah, who was selected from some 600 kids to play the role of an innocent boy transformed into a child soldier, in the searing drama.

When asked how he got the role, Attah, looking remarkably calm given that Venice must be a massive culture shock for him, said, “I was playing football. A white man came up and said, ‘We are looking for boys for a movie. Do you want to audition at the TV station?’”

Fukunaga chipped in. “What he’s not telling you is that he was playing hooky from school.”

When asked about the deal with Netflix, which releases the film October 16, the director explained that the online provider “came on board around the time we were finishing editing” and had no effect on the finished film.

Does Fukunaga consider himself a trailblazer in changing the way we watch movies? “Distribution is already changing. It’s very hard to get a film exhibited these days, very hard to find a space in a theater not only long enough for people to get out and see your film, but long enough that they can even know that the film is there in the first place. So unless you have some giant spectacle, or word of mouth behind it, it’s mostly out of your control,” he said.

“What is in your control,” he added, “is being an audience member. We’re in an interesting democratic moment of cinema attendance, where by the very nature of our showing up to a screening we will be telling distributors and exhibitors that we care to watch certain kinds of films, instead of just watching tentpole films.”

At the “Spotlight” press conference, helmer Tom McCarthy was joined by Mark Ruffalo and Stanley Tucci, minutes after their film about the crusading Boston Globe journalists who exposed widespread child abuse by Catholic priests was met with fulsome applause at the press screening.

McCarthy opened the conference by admitting that: “Any movie that deals with journalism lives in the shadow of that seminal, iconic movie ‘All the President’s Men.’ I know that movie well and I tried my hardest to ignore it, because it’s too imposing a film.”

Other influences included the work of Sidney Lumet, “an early mentor and a friend.” When citing the “economy, efficiency, emotion and honesty” of the late Lumet’s work, McCarthy was using adjectives that could apply to his own movie.

In an odd stroke of programming, these two films, scheduled within a day of each other, share a striking theme, namely the abuse of children. With a common theme comes the same question: can your film make a difference?

Fukunaga suggested that the phenomenon of child soldiers was “a tough one,” not least because using children to wage war had become “its own industry.” But he added, “Movies do have the power to create awareness and positive change, to make the world a better place and a more civilized place.”

As for what McCarthy called the “diabolical crime” at the heart of “Spotlight,” Stanley Tucci suggested that Pope Francis “is extraordinary, and is bringing the Catholic church into the 21st century. If anyone can help stop such abuses in the future it can be him.”

But McCarthy bluntly said he expected “no reaction” to his film from the church. “Nothing would make me happier to be proven wrong. I would love the Pope to see this. I would love the cardinals and the bishops and any priests to see it. If we’re going to move towards truly healing, this film is maybe a small step in the process. But films were made to be shared by a community, and I include the church in our community.”

“Spotlight” subtly draws attention to another issue, which is the slow death of traditional journalism, of a type that investigated the scandal in Boston. Ruffalo, well-known for his campaigning use of Twitter, had a buoyant view about that.

“A lot of investigators have moved into the digital realm and they’re doing some pretty darn good work. It doesn’t come to us as centralized as in the Boston Times and the New York Globe, but it is coming to us. We’re in the infancy of a new news media.”

McCarthy admitted that he admired and was “sometimes in awe of” Ruffalo’s activism. “In the midst of shooting, when we were all overwhelmed, I opened the Boston Globe and saw a picture of Mark up to his waist in water. I thought, ‘Where is he getting the time to do this?’”

What he didn’t get to tell us was what Ruffalo was actually doing while up to his waist in water. All concerned were saved by the bell.

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