Australian film Nitram will debut on Stan in November, after plenty of controversy around the film being made.
The project, from director Justin Kurzel, looks at the lead-up to the Port Arthur massacre of 1996 — regarded as one of the darkest chapters in Australian history — in an attempt to understand why and how this atrocity occurred.
In a statement, the filmmakers said: “Nitram was written as a response to the proliferation of regular mass shootings across the world and is an exploration of the issues and events that led to this atrocity, rather than a re-enactment of it, to bring the gun control debate to the fore and to try to ensure history does not repeat itself.”
The film stars Caleb Landry Jones as Nitram (Martin, spelled backward in a reference to gunman Martin Bryant) who lives with his mother (Judy Davis) and father (Anthony LaPaglia) in suburban Australia in the mid-1990s.
He lives a life of isolation and frustration at never being able to fit in. That is until he unexpectedly finds a close friend in a reclusive heiress, Helen (Essie Davis). However, when that friendship meets its tragic end, and Nitram’s loneliness and anger grow, he begins a slow descent into a nightmare that culminates in the most nihilistic and heinous of acts.
The film screened in Official Selection for Competition at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival and was the first Australian film to compete for the Palme D’Or in a decade, it also marks Kurzel’s third feature film to screen at Cannes and his second in the competition. The film received a standing ovation following its world premiere screening at Cannes, with Caleb Landry Jones recognised with Best Actor honours for his performance.
While the accolades have so far been plentiful, there was a fair amount of opposition to the film being made at all. Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said that he felt “highly uncomfortable” about the film while Arts Minister Elise Archer refused to meet with Kurzel about the project.
Survivor Justin Woolley, who was just 12-years-old when he escaped the mass shooting, said that a film about Bryant and his actions felt “inappropriate” and “tasteless” while fellow survivor John Haddock told The Guardian, “My first reaction [to the film] was ‘this is a tricky one’. Is this appropriate? It brings back terrible memories, even now as I talk about it. But this is fine with me because I read that the film won’t be reliving the massacre. If that was the case I could not bear it.”
“It’s been tricky,” Kurzel, told The Latch. “With Snowtown, we went through [support service] Victims of Crime. They were an incredibly effective conduit between us and those who wanted to understand more about the film and ask us questions. Unfortunately, the Victims of Crime Service in Tasmania refused to have engagement with us.”
The filmmakers ultimately shot the production in Geelong, Victoria.
In the wake of the Port Arthur Massacre, the Australian government — under Prime Minister John Howard — created the National Firearms Agreement and implemented extensive licensing and registration procedures. The much-lauded gun-buyback program, which saw 700,000 firearms being surrendered, was also created.
Bryant was charged with 35 counts of murder and received as many life sentences.
The Stan Original Film Nitram is in select cinemas now and will premiere Wednesday, 24 November on Stan.