There were no posters announcing the Tasmanian premiere of Nitram in the independent state cinema that took place Thursday night.
Justin Kurzel’s new film, which dramatized the course of the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, opened for a quiet, small crowd in the mass shooter’s hometown of Hobart. Its trailers were not included in any other planning, and the film’s opening limped two weeks after its national release.
It’s been 25 years since the horror unfolded in reality, and yet the idea of this film is for many too much, too early and too close to home.
In Hobart, it seems that everyone knows someone who was involved in the hell of that time if they were not themselves. 35 people were killed, including children, with 23 more seriously injured, and countless lives were irrevocably changed. The killer is in Risdon Prison, about 10km down the road from the only cinema showing the film in the southern half of the state.
The tragedy and the perpetrator are rarely mentioned in private conversation here, let alone in public. The Mercury newspaper and the local ABC have guidelines against printing or publishing the perpetrator’s name – not just to avoid giving him any notoriety, but also because it’s still too painful. Pictures of him – or even his resemblance in the form of actor Caleb Landry Jones, with his blonde hair long and greasy for this role – can be too much to bear.
Journalist Kim Napier worked for Hobart’s Triple T radio in 1996, covering the tragedy as it unfolded. She told the Guardian Australia that the shock of a still image from the film with the hair triggered her trauma from that time.
“It makes me feel physically ill,” she said. “That hair is inherently associated with him.”
Napier will not see the film. “It was 25 years ago, but if you scratch the surface, it’s still really, really raw,” she said. “It changed the psyche of the state. I have no interest in watching that movie. I do not agree with censorship, have the film available if people want to see it, fine. I dont do that. ”
The 200-seat cinema confirmed that there were only about 40 viewers for Nitram’s first screening on Thursday at 13.00. About 100 showed up for the 6pm screening. Not surprisingly, many of them among the audience were not originally from Hobart or were barely born in 1996. But some were.
Tania, who did not want to give her full name, lived in Hobart in 1996 and spent most of her time in the hospital caring for her dying husband in April. She thought the film was made with respect, but was still very much influenced by it. “I just felt sick,” she told the Guardian Australia on her way out of the cinema. “It was like going to a funeral. You come out and just feel … numb. “She said she came because she wanted to make sense of that time. “It simply came to my notice then [the tragedy] in a way overshadowed my husband’s death. He died the next day, but everyone here was already in mourning. We did not mourn properly, [so] it never stops. “
Tania said she would not mention the film tomorrow at work and she did not know others who were planning to come. “My parents would not see it,” she said. “My brother will not – he is a policeman and he went down to the place.”
Another local woman, who did not want to be named, said she had only been told about the screening a few hours in advance. “I think it’s really good that it has not been announced,” she said. “And they did not say his name, it was done sensitively. It’s just a very sad story. “Like Tania, this woman said she did not know anyone else who was going to see it, and she did not feel she could ask.
Kurzel, the film’s director, lives in Hobart and always knew that showing Nitram locally would be crowded: last year’s news of the film’s production was met with anger. It was filmed in and around Geelong rather than Tasmania out of respect for survivors and locals. The day before the release, Kurzel told ABC Hobart that he questioned whether it should be shown in the state.
“We’ve been very nervous about it playing out here,” he said. “I have to admit that there are days when I think ‘should it be played here?’
“I think we wanted, as respectfully as possible, to offer Tasmanians an opportunity, for those who want to see it, to see it, and for those who do not, not to be forced to see trailers and pictures that will be traumatic.
“For those who are curious about it and would like to participate in a conversation about it, it is there to be seen, at the same time I fully understand that there will be a large number of people who feel that it is something that they should not. ”