INTERVIEW: Director Justin Kurzel talks to us about his new controversial film Snowtown

With thanks to Madman, was given the opportunity to interview SNOWTOWN’s director Justin Kurzel. The film which is out now on DVD and Blu-ray in Australia, is based on the real life bodies in the barrel’s murders. The event shocked the national back when the exploits of John Bunting and crew came out, and the way everything was portrayed in the media brought attention to the country town of Snowtown. Yet Snowtown was not the place where the actual murders happened, just the final resting place for the bodies. The film itself sets out to portray the events as they happened, and spark some truth into it.

Gareth and I come up with a series of questions for Justin, and ones we hope can answer your own questions you might have on the film.

How did you originally get involved with the project? Was the ‘Bodies in the Barrels’ case one you were familiar with?

Justin Kurzel: Warp Films approached me with the script and I didn’t know too much about the case other than the “bodies in the barrels” line. I started reading the script and the books it was inspired by and saw an incredibly powerful story, which I didn’t feel had been reported in the media. I mean a father/son relationship where the father is a serial killer and seduces his son into a world of murder I just found to be an incredibly unique and chilling story. I also just connected to the area where the story was set, having grown up near there and also felt the community where the events took place was a real key to looking at reasons as to how these events transpired.

SNOWTOWN is not an exploitative piece, in fact I would say it is respectful to those involved and one of the better films I have seen based upon a real life serial killer. Did you do any research into other films, and did you find it at all difficult to translate the events onto the screen?

JK: I did not watch many other films at all while making the film, which was deliberate, as I really wanted to be lead by the environment we were shooting in and the specifics of the case. Haneke’s films probably had an influence in terms of his treatment of violence on screen and how characters interact with each other when surrounded by fear. Obviously films like THE BOYS, which I greatly admire, stayed at the back of my head in terms of a very particular male point of view, but to be honest the people and places were just so unique within the story that it became the only true inspiration for any creative decisions we made. I think it was difficult finding the story and point of view within the events of SNOWTOWN. I read a lot of material and transcripts and did interviews and had all these moments, events, sparks of ideas – but then to distil them down to a narrative and cinematic story was a real challenge. A lot of our most difficult choices came down to what to leave out.

As the suppression order on the case was lifted for the movie, how accurate were the events depicted? Did you film close to any of the real locations?

JK: The events are very closely based on the two books and transcripts of the court case. We did interview certain individuals who were close to the people involved, which gave us a much more domestic and intimate insight into the family. At the end of the day though SNOWTOWN is an interpretation of these events and the characters have been inspired by what we read and observed and then formed and sculpted to tell the story we were most interested in telling. We filmed in the Northern Suburbs of Adelaide where the murders took place and also cast a lot of the actors from the area as well. We also filmed in Snowtown.

Can you tell us a bit about casting the film, and the decision to use unknown and first time actors?

JK: I knew from the start, when I presented my vision to Anna and Sarah at Warp Films that I thought the film needed to look authentic and be made from the inside out. I just completely believed in finding the right people from the area who could bring a wealth of experience and truth to the storytelling. They were incredible and created performances which were sophisticated, brave and imaginative, they are what I am most proud of about the film. We auditioned in the area over a period of six weeks with casting agent Allison Meadows and really just found the cast on the streets – at malls, gyms etc. I will always be indebted to them and I do so hope that other filmmakers appreciate their work, as they are all extremely gifted and could go on to play other roles.

What sort of response have you gotten from the people involved with the actual events?

JK: When it was first announced that the film was going to be made, there was a lot of concern, as I think people thought it was going to be a horror/slasher film. The producers and I spent a lot of time trying to talk to people about the reasons we were making it. We went to SNOWTOWN and spoke to the community there and also started a dialogue with community leaders within the Northern suburbs. We had contact with some of the victims’ families, which was facilitated through Michael O’Connell from the Victim Rights Commission in South Australia, who we found extremely helpful and supportive. At the end of the day, this film will not please everyone and that is something I completely respect. So far, the response has been mostly positive in that people feel as though they have come away from the film with a different point of view from what they once thought.

What did you want viewers to take away from the experience of watching SNOWTOWN?

I never wanted to make a film about these events and provide the audience with an opinion or judgement as to why and how these murders happened. To do this would have been dishonest and presumptuous. It was always important for the film to be an observation, an impression of an incredibly compelling relationship between a father and son and a community who endured a form of evil, which was unseen in Australia before. I hope the audience walk away with a fresh perspective on these events.

Big thanks to Ben and Madman for the interview opportunity, as well as to Justin for taking the time out to talk to us.


5 thoughts on “INTERVIEW: Director Justin Kurzel talks to us about his new controversial film Snowtown

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