There were no posters announcing the Tasmanian premiere of Nitram at the Independent State Cinema, which took place on Thursday evening.
Justin Kurzel’s new film dramatizes the process until 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, opened to quiet, small people in the mass-protested hometown of Hobart. His trailers were not included in any other schedule, and the film’s opening took place two weeks after its national release.
It’s been 25 years since the horror unfolded in real life and yet for many the idea of this movie is too much, too fast, and too close to home.
In Hobart, everyone seems to know everyone who was involved in the hellish image of that day, if they were not themselves. Thirty-five people were killed, children included, with 23 seriously injured, and an immeasurable life changed irrevocably. The killer is in Risdon Prison, about 10km from the road of the only cinema showing the film in the southern half of the state.
Tragedy and shootings are rarely mentioned here in private, let alone in public. The Mercury newspaper and the local ABC have guidelines against printing or communicating the name of the perpetrator – not only to prevent him from becoming a notary, but also because it still hurts. Images 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 many.
Journalist Kim Napier worked for Hobart Triple T Radio in 1996 and covered the tragedy as it unfolded. She told the Guardian Australia that a still from the film with which the hair came in triggered her trauma from the time.
“It makes me feel physically ill,” she said. “That hair is intrinsically connected to him.”
Napier will not see the film. “It was 25 years ago but when you scratch the surface it’s still really, really rough,” she said. “It has changed the psyche of the state. I have no interest in seeing that film. I do not agree with the censorship, have the film available when people want to see it, well. I do not.”
The 200-seat cinema confirmed that there were only about 40 spectators for Nitram’s first screening, at 13:00 on Thursday. About 100 showed up for the 6 p.m. show. Surprisingly, many of those in the audience were not originally from Hobart, or were barely born in 1996. But a few were.
Tania, who did not want to give her full name, lived in Hobart in 1996, spending most of her time in hospital after her husband died in April. She thought the movie was done respectfully but was still very 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 you just feel … name. She said she came because she wanted to make sense of that time. “I feel good [the tragedy] my husband flooded his death in a way. He died the next day but everyone here was already in mourning. We did not mourn, [so] it never stops. “
Tania said she would not mention the film at work tomorrow, and she did not know anyone else was planning to come. “My parents would not see it,” she said. “My brother will not – he is a policeman and went to the scene.”
Another local woman, who did not want to be named, said she had only been informed of the screening a few hours earlier. “I think it’s really good that it was not announced,” she said. “And they did not say his name, it was made sensitive. It’s just a very sad story. “Like Tania, this woman said she knew no one else who would see it and she did not feel she could ask.
Kurzel, the director of the film, lives in Hobart and always knew that screening Nitram was locally dangerous: last year there were news about the production of the film met with anger. It was filmed in and around Geelong instead of Tasmania out of respect for survivors and residents. The day before the release, Kurzel said ABC Hobart that he asked the question whether it should be shown in the state.
“We were very nervous about it playing out here,” he said. “I have to admit, there are days when I think ‘should it be played here?’
“I think we wanted, as respectfully as possible, to offer the Tasmanians a chance, for those who want to see it, to see it, and for those who do not have to force themselves to see trailers and pictures that are traumatic.
“For those who are curious about it and want to be involved in a conversation about it, it is there to be seen, at the same time I fully understand that there are a large number of people who feel as if it is something they should not.”