The future is coming to the lagoon city of Venice and to the longest-established of all film festivals, the Venice Film Festival 2015 as Netflix, one of the new breed of video-on-demand services, is bringing its first in-house production, Beasts of No Nation, to open at Venice, September 3.
The movie adaptation of the award-winning book by Uzodimma Iweala, stars British actor Idris Elba as a shady commandant fighting with a militia during an unspecified African war and is directed by Cary Fukunaga, who was behind the acclaimed first series of True Detective. Already its striking poster and alarming trailer have added to a buzz suggesting it may make waves at Venice.
When it is commercially released in October, Beasts of No Nation will be immediately available to see not only in selected cinemas but also to subscribers to the Netflix home entertainment service – which now boasts more than 50 million international subscribers.
Independent film-makers have little chance of competing unless they can make a fuss at a high-profile festival. Hayman cites the example of British director Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave, which starred Chiwetel Ejiofor, and which won rave reviews at the Telluride film festival in Colorado five months before its release and a subsequent blaze of awards. Such films are valuable to production studios because they often light the path to Oscar victory, something that is not going to happen with a comic-book franchise.
The decision to screen Beasts of No Nation at Venice is a risk for the festival’s director, Alberto Barbera, but he clearly sees the destiny of film as an evolving balance between home and cinema viewing, that is between theatrical chains and streaming services. “Netflix and perhaps Amazon will for sure become important players in film production and distribution all over the world. We can’t ignore them,” Barbera said. His vision found support at Cannes from Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who said he could see Netflix coming to the rescue of the foreign-language art house genre customarily celebrated at film festivals. Weinstein believes these streaming services feed and develop an appetite for independent films rather than sating it. Regardless of the auguries, Netflix is undeterred. It is already backing two alternative satirical features: Brad Pitt’s forthcoming military parody War Machine and a mockumentary, Mascots, made by Christopher Guest, of Spinal Tap and Best in Show.
Although Beasts of No Nation is not opening the festival, its makers hope to ride a similar wave. It will have the extra impetus of being Netflix’s first feature-length offering and has also been timed to premiere before the company’s launch of an Italian service in October. The screenplay is based on a 2005 novel by the Nigerian author Uzodinma Iweala and tells the story of a child soldier torn from his family to fight in a civil war, before coming under the wing of Elba’s warlord.
Son of former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the writer Iweala attended St. Albans School in Washington D.C. and also the Harvard College at Harvard University earning an A.B., magna cum laude, in English and American Literature and Language in 2004.
While at Harvard, Iweala earned the Hoopes Prize and Dorothy Hicks Lee Prize for Outstanding Undergraduate Thesis, 2004; Eager Prize for Best Undergraduate Short Story, 2003; and the Horman Prize for Excellence in Creative Writing, 2003.
He is a graduate of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, class of 2011. He is currently a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.
He won the New York Public Library’s 2006 Young Lions Fiction Award. In 2007, he was named as one of Granta magazine’s 20 best young American novelists.
His debut novel, Beasts of No Nation, is a formation of his thesis work at Harvard published in 2005, and has received considerable critical acclaim from sources like Time Magazine, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Times, and the Rolling Stone magazine.
The boo has also won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the New York Public Library Young Lions Award, and the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
In 2007 he was selected as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists.