Culture / Film

‘Nitram’ shadows the events leading up to one of Australia’s most disturbing days in living memory

As cinemas across the country debut Nitram, a film that shadows the events leading up to April 28 1996 - one of Australia's most disturbing days in living memory - we are here to share everything you need to know about the new release.

The date, of course, points to the Port Arthur massacre where a lone gunman opened fire on the historic site, killing 35 people and severely injuring 23. As a nation the memory of this tragedy is incredibly raw and so delving into this history could only have been done with by those with a deft touch and shrewd judgement. That leaves us with Justin Kerzel who brought us cinematic depictions of the harrowing Snowtown murders and The True History of the Kelly Gang, along with his collaborator, screenwriter Shaun Grant.

In the wake of a tragedy so traumatic, so heinous, it is often, as we've seen in the US, the perpetrators name that is said before the victims. Nitram (the gunman's name backwards) is wary of this territory, omitting the killer's name - someone desperate for attention - in order not to glorify or humanise his actions. That being said, from the outset the film has been shrouded in a fierce resistance from Tasmanians. As reported by The GuardianTasmanian Premier Peter Gutwin told parliament in December last year that he felt "highly uncomfortable" about the film. While arts minister Elise Archer had refused to meet with the filmmakers Kerzel and Grant.

Some survivors of the Port Arthur massacre have also echoed these sentiments, with writer Justin Woolley tweeting, "Yep. I was 12 years old when that guy tried to shoot me. Our family was amazingly lucky given we all walked away. Not interested in 'exploring this dark chapter of Australian history' or the 'study of a man driven to do' this."

Heralding from Tasmania himself, director Justin Kerzel was acutely aware that he would have to broach the subject delicately. It's important to note that the film Nitram does not portray the shootings, literally or by way of euphemism. Instead the script, written by Shaun Grant, focuses on how easy it is for someone unfit to handle a firearm to walk into a gun shop and buy one. This angle came to Grant during his time in the US, following the Pittsburgh Synagogue and Thousand Oaks mass shootings where the rhetoric stemmed from this idea that everyday citizens had the right to own an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle (the same used in the Port Arthur massacre) because they were responsible gun owners.

However, Neil Triffett, a filmmaker who grew up near Port Arthur and was eight-years-old when the shootings occurred expressed his hesitation around the film saying, “35 people didn’t die simply to offer Americans a cautionary tale about gun control". Although Triffett acknowledged Nitram could be an opportunity for "Australians to talk about an event we’ve never been allowed to talk about before". Which after all, is what all who are involved in the film are getting at. On a site that holds so much history - stories of colonialism, violence and mass murder - the only way to ensure such horrors never happen again is to maintain the story in our collective memory - to never forget.

As far as the cast is concerned, Caleb Landry Jones is saddled with the lead role of 'Nitram' who lives with his parents, played by the formidable Judy Davis and Anthony LaPaglia, in suburban Australia during the 1990s. So far, Nitram has screened in Official Selection for Competition at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival - the first Australian film to compete for the Palme D’Or in a decade - and received a standing ovation following its premiere.

Released in theatres on September 30, those who wish to watch Nitram can now do so everywhere except for venues in Hobart, where release details are still being mulled over. Otherwise, you can hang tight until November 24 when the film will arrive on Stan.

Plunge into the trailer for Nitram, below.

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