Port Arthur massacre film to be directed by Snowtown's Justin Kurzel

Stan-produced film NITRAM will feature big-name Australian actors with US actor Caleb Landry Jones as the gunman

The events of Port Arthur, almost a quarter of a century ago, shook Australia to its core. Now production has started in Victoria on a film depicting the lead-up to the massacre that claimed 35 lives – but the producers are being cautious about the details.

On Monday Stan, in conjunction with GoodThing Productions, announced that production had commenced in Geelong on the film NITRAM (that’s Martin spelt backwards).

But the announcement did not name the event the film is based on, only saying it “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”.

NITRAM will be directed by Justin Kurzel, who previously delved into the darkest corners of real-life horror with his film Snowtown, and stars Judy Davis, Anthony LaPaglia and Essie Davis, Kurzel’s partner.

But the role of Martin Bryant himself will be played by American actor Caleb Landry Jones, best known for his portrayal of the unhinged son in Jordan Peele’s 2017 horror film Get Out.

A spokesman for Stan would not say why the decision was made to cast the perpetrator from outside Australia.

Talk on social media suggested the role could be a career killer for an Australian actor, given Bryant’s unique place in the annals of Australian crime.

It’s interesting that they have an American playing Bryant. Maybe they couldn’t find an Australian willing to take on the role or maybe they wanted an outsider who isn’t marked the scars of a national trauma.

— Wenlei Ma (@WenleiMa) November 30, 2020

They are gonna be treading a fine line on getting this right... If they make Martin Bryant’s character even slightly sympathetic/relatable then I think Australian audiences will be turned off

— Dave (@davey0511) November 30, 2020

The film is being shot in regional Victoria instead of Tasmania, where Bryant went on his rampage on a Sunday afternoon in 1996.

The Guardian understands this decision was made by the producers out of respect for the residents in and near Port Arthur.

The film will premiere at the Melbourne International film festival in 2021.

The NITRAM announcement comes just days after news that filmmaker Ron Howard has chosen Queensland as the location for Thirteen Lives, the latest film to be based on the Thai cave rescue in 2018, which freed 14 boys and their football coach who had been stuck for more than 17 days.

Arts minister Paul Fletcher told Variety that Thirteen Lives was expected to inject more than $96m into the economy, and create about 435 jobs.

The federal government is looking at introducing local content programming quotas for video streaming services such as Netflix, Apple TV and Foxtel’s Binge, to level the playing field with commercial free-to-air broadcasters.

But as the Guardian reported on 27 November, Stan will be exempt from any future quotas because it is owned by Nine Entertainment, which already operates under local content obligations.


Kelly Burke

The GuardianTramp

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