John outside Snowtown bank, Jamie in the background. A scene from Justin Kurzel's THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS. Photo courtesy of Warp Films Australia Pty Ltd. An IFC MIDNIGHT release.
- Allison Meadows
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The Snowtown Murders (2011/2012)
Also Known As: Snowtown
Opened: 03/02/2012 Limited
|IFC Center||03/02/2012 - 03/15/2012||14 days|
Trailer: Click for trailer
Genre: Australian Crime Drama
Based on the horrifying crimes discovered in Snowtown, Australia in 1999, where police found dismembered bodies rotting in barrels, THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS, which marks Justin Kurzel's directorial debut is a stark journey into the feral subculture of welfare dependence, addiction, domestic violence, brutality and sexual abuse.
Elizabeth Harvey (Louise Harris) is raising her three boys in Adelaide's poor northern suburbs. After her latest boyfriend displays pedophilic tendencies she takes up with a new man, hoping for security but instead winds up welcoming an even more vicious predator into her home.
John Bunting (Daniel Henshall) is the moral compass among a circle of friends who hold self-appointed neighborhood watch meetings at the kitchen table. Fueled by cigarettes and beer they cast judgments on those living around them. Bunting enlists his crew in acts of sadistic vigilantism on those he considers deviants takes Elizabeth's son Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) under his wing. In a mix of misdirected hero worship and terror, Jamie becomes an accomplice to a spree of torture and murder.
THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS is an uncompromising film, focused on the relationship between vulnerable teenager and a father figure who is revealed to be the worst kind of bully.
When WARP FILMS AUSTRALIA first approached me to direct the film THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS, I felt a great sense of trepidation about being involved in such a dark story. However after reading Shaun Grant's screenplay, and the books that inspired the film, I soon found myself becoming drawn to the story and, in particular, the community in which it is set.
While I found the subject matter to be both overwhelming and deeply disturbing within this nightmare, Shaun's script had managed to capture an extraordinary humanity which transcended horror and embraced a story that was tragic, moving and utterly compelling. It brought to life a very complex father and son relationship between John Bunting and Jamie Vlassakis. With its raw brutality and surprising tenderness the script revealed a corruption of innocence unlike anything I had read before.
In making the film, I wanted to try and understand how Jamie's search for something better led him to find the answers in a person like John Bunting. I continually asked myself, what would I have done if I had the same upbringing and was involved in similar situations to Jamie? Would I have had the maturity, moral judgment and strength to make different choices? I never wished to examine this question as a way of excusing Jamie's actions but rather to better understand how a young person could be complicit in such crimes.
Having grown up near the area, it was important to me that this film was told from the inside out. For THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS to be produced with a level of authenticity, it was vital for the northern suburbs communities to have some kind of ownership and involvement in the telling of this story. As a result, real locations and a predominately local cast were employed.
To those actors who trusted me with their stories and committed emotionally and physically to the telling of the film, I am truly indebted. I would also like to thank the communities we worked in for welcoming us and assisting in telling a very dark and painful chapter of the area's recent history. The locals involved helped enormously in the creation of an interpretation of the events that we hope feels genuine, as opposed to something that is a reproduction.
I understand and respect that the making of this film will bring up pain and anguish for many people, especially those directly related to the events. My hope is that the film offers an engaging observation and gets an audience to ask why, in contemporary Australia, a crime so immense took place and devastatingly went undetected for so many years.
-- Justin Kurzel
Several years ago I came across a book written by a South Australian journalist entitled The Snowtown Murders. At the time I had little interest in true crime stories but as I read I began to feel an unexpected connection with the material, and in particular with the plight of Jamie Vlassakis. The fact that I was only a few months older than Jamie led me to contemplate the question; what would I do? From its very first draft THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS was always an examination of the Nature vs. Nurture debate. How much influence does your environment have on who you become? And in the case of Jamie, is a killer born or bred? I immediately knew that I wanted to tell the story from Jamie's point of view. I wanted to place the audience in his shoes. All in the hope that people may ask themselves the same question I did; what would I do? Or at the very least; How could this happen?
Having been raised by a single mother in a small community I was always interested in the influence men can have over their fellow man, particularly those without a steadying male influence in their lives.
I found the atrocities that occurred in South Australia during the 1990's to be a horrifying example of this.
An organized group of serial killers is an extremely rare occurrence throughout history and I wanted to know how and why one man could convince others to perform such reprehensible acts. If it wasn't for this unusual group dynamic I know that I would never have told the Snowtown story, as it was never intended to be a horror movie. The violence, while being integral to the story, was always in the background, it was the psychology of the characters that concerned me from the outset.
What also concerned me from the beginning was the pressure to get the story right. Knowing that twelve people died, and countless other lives were affected, meant that I was determined to be as truthful as possible with the screenplay, while still bearing in mind that it is a 'dramatization' of the events. It also meant I constantly had to ask myself; why am I telling this story? This was a question that weighed heavily on me though the entire process as I realized for some people THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS would reopen old wounds. While I understand the reluctance of some to relive the events, I also strongly believe that it's important to try to understand the evil that people do in the hope that we can learn from it and prevent it occurring again, because as Shakespeare wrote 'the evil lives after them'.
The task of writing a script based on any actual event is a difficult one, but the process of telling the story behind one of this country's darkest chapters was for me a near overwhelming one. However I am blessed to be able to say that with the assistance of some wonderfully supportive producers, a dedicated cast and crew and remarkably talented director, I have been able to witness the premiere of THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS at the 2011 Adelaide Film Festival.
-- Shaun Grant
About the Production
Given the notoriety that is synonymous with Snowtown, producers Anna McLeish and Sarah Shaw approached the first film for WARP FILMS AUSTRALIA with an enthusiasm and willingness to take creative risks.
The challenging subject matter felt a logical fit for the new Australian venture, complimenting the WARP spirit and brand, which has been fostered in the UK (http://warp.net).
McLeish explains, "The story of Snowtown is so fascinating. I was like most people and thought about the gruesome nature of it and the 'Bodies in the Barrels'. But it became apparent that the story was incredibly complex. It was a portrait of an area and a community that has been overlooked and forgotten by mainstream Australia."
Shaw and McLeish worked with writer Shaun Grant for many months. "Shaun had found a way to tap into the story. Reading it you were willing to go on that journey and meet the characters involved. Shaun's choice of going into the events through Jamie Vlassakis was a fresh and vital way of telling the story" Shaw adds.
Then came the attachment of director Justin Kurzel. Kurzel is originally from Gawler, not far from where the murders took place. "A first film is always a huge endeavour regardless," says Shaw, "but particularly with his personal ties to the area. He wanted to give the film a dignity."
The next phase of script development required an on-the-ground commitment in Adelaide from both Grant and Kurzel. Through engagement with locals, and learning the back-story through the film's story consultant Debi Marshall, they managed to build a stronger sense of the community and characters in the story.
The Producers undertook an extensive consultation process with the affected communities, but acknowledge it is a film that will be difficult for many. THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS is not the first, nor will it be the last film to explore controversial territory.
Throughout the process, the filmmakers have continued to liaise with Victims' Rights Commissioner Michael O'Connell, the Snowtown Management Committee and various other individuals & organisations in Adelaide's far northern suburbs.