Film about the former life of Port Arthur shooter Nitram, still “too raw” for many Tasmanians


It has been a quarter of a century since the worst massacre in modern Australian history.

So when news broke that a film was soon to be released depicting the murderer’s life and behavior before the mass shooting, for many people the reaction was not “Too Soon” but “Why?” “

Disturbing and uncomfortable, Nitram dramatizes events before a sniper kills 35 people and injures 22 others at the Port Arthur Historic Site and Seascape Guest House in April 1996.

The massacre sparked major gun reform across Australia, and director Justin Kurzel said he was drawn to writer Shaun Grant’s screenplay because of its strong message on gun laws fire.

“There is a particular scene in the film, where the character walks into a gun store.

“And the way he buys these guns like he buys fishing rods, I found out that he was talking to me about gun reform in a way that I had never seen before – it got me. emotionally affected. “

Kurzel and Grant previously collaborated on the 2011 film about the Snowtown Murders.

Nitram avoids showing the massacre itself, but news of its production sparked widespread outrage last year, including criticism that portraying the murderer’s life and motives would inevitably generate sympathy.

Essie Davis and Justin Kurzel on the set of Nitram. (

Provided: Madman Entertainment

)

“I think some people watch the movie and, you know, they can feel a kind of sympathy,” Kurzel said.

“But there are others I know who don’t, and they feel like the character is extremely dangerous.

“For us, it was about trying to find something familiar and recognizable more than anything else.”

Kurzel lives in Tasmania, with his wife, actress Essie Davis, who plays the lone heiress who befriends the shooter.

Kurzel said he was well aware of the lingering sensitivities surrounding the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania, where even 25 years later, many people refuse to pronounce the gunman’s name.

A man with long blond hair stands in front of a burning car.
Caleb Landry Jones stars as the Port Arthur killer and won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his portrayal. (

Provided: Madman Entertainment

)

The film’s title, Nitram, is the first name of the reverse shooter.

“The last thing I want to do is bring trauma to this place that I adore and absolutely love,” he said.

“But there was something in the script that started a conversation about this event that I know is very difficult to have here.

American actor Caleb Landry Jones is the star of the film, with a performance that won him the award for best actor at the Cannes Film Festival.

Judy Davis and Anthony LaPaglia play the parents of the murderer.

Nitram received no support from Screen Tasmania, and the Tasmanian government refused to engage in conversations with the filmmakers. The film was shot in Geelong, Victoria.

“Due to the sensitivity of the film, we felt the last thing we wanted to do, especially in this area, was to trigger trauma by recreating particular scenes,” Kurzel said.

“It’s too raw for them to see it”

Kelly Spaulding was 19 on the day of the Port Arthur massacre, working on a farm on the Tasman Peninsula, when he heard helicopters flying at low altitudes.

“It wasn’t until I stopped working and walked into the local store that I learned there had been an incident in Port Arthur,” he said.

He ran home to check if his mother, who usually worked in the teahouses at the Port Arthur Historic Site, was there.

“Luckily mom was not at work that day,” Mr. Spaulding said.

Mr. Spaulding and his mother went there to help, not knowing what was going on.

“Communications were pretty bad back then,” he said.

“So nobody knew [whether] the shooter was out or what was going on that afternoon.

“It was a pretty horrible event, how it turned out.”

Man wearing a blue shirt sitting in front of a fireplace.
Kelly Spaulding was 19 on the day of the Port Arthur massacre on April 26, 1996.(

ABC News: Chris Healy

)

Mr. Spaulding is now Mayor of the Tasman Peninsula, which includes the Colony of Port Arthur.

He said the 1996 massacre was still raw for many in the community and that he would not see the film.

After hearing about the film after it had already been shot, Mr Spaulding and the filmmakers were in touch, so he could tell the community what to expect.

“There is a whole generation of new young people in the region [who] can be curious. They might want to watch the movie and find out, ”he said.

Memorial to the historic site of Port Arthur.
The Reflection Pool Memorial at the Port Arthur Historic Site.(

ABC News: Luke Bowden

)

“I think for anyone like me who has been affected, or for those worse affected, they won’t need it – they know the story.

“It’s too raw for them to look at it.”

Mr. Spaulding has two ideas on the set of Nitram in Victoria.

“If it had been filmed here it would have been quite trying,” he said.

“But, then there is the other side, that [if it had been filmed on the Tasman Peninsula] at least they would have put money back into the community. “

“It lifts the hairs on the back of the neck”

A quarter of a century ago, Colin Riley was part of the police team that arrested the Port Arthur shooter.

“It’s just one of those things that’s a bookmark in your life,” he said.

Mr Riley, who is now the head of the Tasmanian Police Association, said the prospect of the film caused anxiety among elders and police officers on duty who responded to the shooting.

A gray haired man sitting on steps near a blue door on a sandstone building, wearing a Tasmanian Police Association shirt
Colin Riley, now head of the Tasmanian Police Association, was one of the officers responding to the 1996 massacre. (

ABC News: Luke Bowden

)

“Every time we talk about Port Arthur it makes your hair stand on end,” he said.

He said he had no plans to see the movie.

“I think it’s a generational thing. It probably won’t happen in my lifetime, I guess.”

Projections in Hobart are uncertain

The film will be released on September 30, in parts of the country where theaters are not affected by COVID-19 restrictions.

It will also be available to stream online later this year.

However, Tasmanian audiences may have a hard time finding it in theaters.

There has been no real marketing in the state.

It will air in Launceston next month, but it is not known if, or when, it could air in Hobart.

“I think there will be those [who] will certainly never want it to be screened in Tasmania, ”Kurzel said.

“However, if there is an opportunity for these [who] want to see it and, above all, generations [who] want to understand and know more about this event and what changed in Australia after this event, so I hope they can have the opportunity to see it. “


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