How did commercial director Bryan Buckley, dubbed the “King of the Superbowl” by The New York Times, decide to make a coming of age film about Somalia?
“There’s actually a logical path,” Buckley told EW. It all started with a trip to Africa for The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “There’s a worldwide crisis going on with refugees right now. When we were in this giant camp in northern Kenya, we were witnessing all these Somali refugees that were arriving en mass, and you start hearing their stories and what they’d been through.”
Asad tells the story of its title character, a young boy trying to take care of his mother and family through fishing and bartering, and the temptations he faces from the glamorous allure of the pirating community.
Buckley staged his shoot in South Africa – Somalia would have been too dangerous. But, Buckley said, “a Somalia acting community doesn’t exist, so what we did was we went to a refugee community down there, showed an elder the script and told him that we’d love to work with the people in his community. From there we sent somebody out to tape some boys doing improv stuff. And the two boys who I cast, they just had something. I’ve done enough casting to know that.”
Not only were the boys illiterate, but neither could swim. All of that needed to be taught before they could even start shooting. To add to the confusion, Buckley was directing these non-reading, non-actors in a language that Buckley himself didn’t speak. One day, half of his crew quit because he’d chosen costumes that were the colors of al-Shabaab – the militant al-Qaeda affiliated group that has successfully taken over portions of Somalia and imposed strict Sharia law on the residents. Buckley said he realized “not only will they not wear that, they will not get near that. They’re not messing around. You have to take things very seriously – there is a lot at stake.”
But ultimately, you wouldn’t know any of that – the fear, the danger, the lost in translation confusions — from the final product. The tale of Asad is elegant, funny, tragic and moving. And Buckley’s ultimate goal is to turn it into a feature.“It’s designed to be an uplifting film that is for the people,” said Buckley. “We weren’t exploiting anybody.”
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