The director of a controversial movie about the man who carried out Australia’s worst mass shooting defended his movie on Friday and warned that the lessons of the Port Arthur massacre are being forgotten.
Martin Bryant killed 35 people and wounded 23 in a rampage at a tourist spot in Tasmania in 1996 that so scarred the country that its guns laws were rewritten within days.
Nitram — Bryant’s first name backwards — is one of the most hotly debated films in the running for the top prize at the Cannes film festival in France.
The gunman is played by US actor Caleb Landry Jones, who looks shockingly like the killer.
However, director Justin Kurzel told reporters at Cannes that firearms rules have been relaxed so much since that “there are now more guns in Australia than before Port Arthur.”
Despite 650,000 weapons being taken out of circulation after the massacre, the maker of Assassin’s Creed and Snowtown said history could repeat itself.
Kurzel has faced severe criticism at home for making the movie, with fellow director Richard Keddie saying: “Art does not justify a Martin Bryant movie... and it is entirely irresponsible.”
Others said it could not but be exploitative and would retraumatize survivors and families of the dead.
However, Kurzel — who lives in Tasmania — said that 25 years after the bloodshed “there are generations who are not aware of Port Arthur. “I felt a film could do more than an opinion piece or a [political] debate” to sound the alarm about gun reform.”
The movie shows none of the murders and stops abruptly as Bryant takes his semi-automatic rifle out of his bag in a cafe at the former penal colony, one of Tasmania’s top tourist attractions.
“There was just no way I could go there,” knowing how much the killings “broke up that community,” the director told reporters.
“I understand why we have had a lot of heat and why some are very distressed about a film being made. But we made it because of the absolute absurdity of a character like this walking into a gun store and being able to buy semi-automatic weapons like fishing rods” as Bryant did, he said.
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