A survivor of the 1996 Port Arthur massacre and Tasmania’s Premier are among those who have criticised a new film in production detailing the tragedy.
- A film about the lead up to the massacre will premiere next year
- Tasmania’s arts minister refused to meet with filmmakers when contacted
- Survivor Justin Woolley says he “strongly objects” to the film being made
It is understood the film will not name gunman Martin Bryant and fictitious names and titles will be used for other characters.
The film is directed by Justin Kurzel and written by Shaun Grant, who collaborated on a film adaptation of the Snowtown murders that was released in 2011.
NITRAM is the current working title for the film, Bryant’s first name spelled backwards.
In a press release announcing the film, streaming service Stan described it as “a scripted feature film that looks at the events leading up to one of the darkest chapters in Australian history in an attempt to understand why and how this atrocity occurred”.
The film is due to premiere on the online platform and in cinemas in 2021 after debuting at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
Production for the film is currently underway at several locations in and around Geelong, Victoria.
Minister refused to meet filmmaker
In Question Time in the Tasmanian Parliament on Tuesday, Premier Peter Gutwein said he felt “highly uncomfortable” about the film, but admitted there were few options available to limit its production.
“This is a production that is not being shot in Tasmania and from the point of view of what we could do as a state we have very few, if any, options in terms of being able to limit this production taking place,” he said.
Mr Gutwein said Arts Minister Elise Archer refused to meet with the filmmaker when asked.
“When contacted about this [Ms Archer] made the point very clearly that she wouldn’t meet [with the filmmaker] and the Government would not support the upcoming film project, saying that there is an understandable and ongoing sensitivity in Tasmania around the subject and it was not appropriate for the Tasmanian Government to lend support or enter into discussions regarding this project,” Mr Gutwein said.
Neither the Tasmanian Government nor Screen Tasmania had been involved in the film.
“I would hope that the filmmakers would be sensitive in the way that they craft this particular production.”
Survivor says film ‘inappropriate’
Justin Woolley was visiting Port Arthur with his family on the day of the massacre in 1996.
The then 12-year-old was in the Broad Arrow cafe with his sister looking at souvenirs 10 minutes before the gunman entered.
Like many tourists that day, he thought the gunfire was a form of historical re-enactment.
He then saw people screaming and flooding out of the cafe.
His grandfather realised bullets were being fired in their direction and the family took shelter in nearby ruins.
His family survived, but said the film about the perpetrator was “inappropriate”.
“As someone with direct involvement, it’s only natural that I would be more sensitive than most to the announcement of the film,” he said in a statement.
Now an author, Mr Woolley said his concern about the film stemmed from his understanding of needing to humanise the main character.
“I know well that in order to create a story about this individual it is necessary to generate sympathy in the audience, at least have them relate to the subject,” Mr Woolley said.
“It is this, in a film portraying the life of Martin Bryant, that I strongly object to.”
“The language in the announcement of this film that it will be a ‘study of one of the darkest chapters in Australian history’ and will focus on the study of a man being driven to do something so horrific immediately raised these alarm bells.
“We do not need a study of the motivations of the perpetrator of this crime. We know them already.”
The producers did not comment when contacted by the ABC about the concerns.
In its statement on Monday, Stan said it had “complete faith” that the subject matter would be handled with sensitivity and respect.”
Snowtown filmmaker showed ‘sensitivity’
The prospect of a film being made about a dark day in Australian history is familiar to Paul McCormack.
The South Australian grain farmer was a member of the Snowtown Community Management Committee, which represented community interests after learning a film would be made about the infamous Snowtown murders in the 1990s.
“There had been a number of documentaries made in the period from the crime until the film was actually made, there had been documentaries that probably hadn’t painted the town in a really good light,” he said.
“So there was a little bit of disappointment, frustration, a ‘why us’ sort of attitude.”
Reflecting on his experience, Mr McCormack said any concerns and apprehensions were taken on board.
“There are references on travelling to Snowtown and he [the filmmaker] took that on board that in the dialogue, it wasn’t mentioned directly,” he said.
“I think there was an element of sensitivity in our film that made us out that we were at the end of a chain of events.
He said he can understand the mixed reception to the upcoming film.
“It’s human nature to be curious about certain events in history, and unfortunately, Snowtown was victim to that,” he said.
“I can understand that the filmmaker would like to depict a part of history but I’d urge him to be very careful and very tasteful and very sincere in the production.
“I think it’s best if it’s not shown in some ways, but it’s not for me to judge.”