Director defends Australia gun massacre film at Cannes

·3-min read

The director of a controversial movie about the man who carried out Australia's worst mass shooting on Friday defended his movie and warned that the lessons of the Port Arthur massacre are being forgotten.

Martin Bryant killed 35 people and wounded 23 others 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.

The gunman is played by American actor Caleb Landry Jones, who looks shockingly like the killer.

But director Justin Kurzel told AFP 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 by a gun amnesty 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 claimed it could not but be exploitative and would retraumatise both survivors and families of the dead.

- 'I understand the distress' -

But Kurzel -- who lives in Tasmania -- insisted 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 AFP.

"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.

Kurzel's Tasmania-born wife Essie Davis plays Bryant's heiress girlfriend Helen Harvey, who died in a car accident four years before the massacre.

Many believe Bryant grabbed the wheel of the car causing it to veer off the road.

"We just met in '96 (the year of the massacre) so I felt the pain and suffering that was caused," Kurzel said.

Landry Jones, who plays the killer, said it was "very evident that people were going to be angry. People probably pegged the film before even seeing it," he told AFP.

The actor, who starred in the Oscar-winning "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri", said he was sure opinions will change as soon as the film is shown in Australia and "people see that it is a very sensitive piece and very respectfully made".

Gun controls cannot be allowed to "continue to soften", Kurzel said. "This year alone there has been 251 mass shootings in the United States. It's almost an everyday occurrence."

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