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Justin Kurzel and Lucas Pittaway talk bringing Australian serial killer John Bunting to the big screen


Snowtown
02 November 2011

Snowtown is a dark, gripping tale of the notorious Australia serial killer John Bunting, set to hit our screens on November 18.

Airing at the 55th BFI London Film Festival, Snowtown is director Justin Kurzel and leading star Lucas Pittaway’s debut features, as they caught up with The Fan Carpet’s Stefan Pape to discuss the upcoming film.

Kurzel, who grew up near Snowtown, speaks about a story which is very close to home for him, whilst Pittaway, who plays the films protagonist Jamie, was first approached for the role when in a shopping centre – as he also discusses choosing cinema over the army.

 

 

Firstly, congratulation on what is a really enticing and gripping drama; you must be both be absolutely delighted with this as a finished product?

Justin Kurzel: I’m really proud of it, especially the performances in the film that have come from mostly first-timers and that we cast from the area so I’m really excited that we have been embraced not only in Australia where it did really well, but also with various audiences over the world at festivals so yeah we’re really excited by its release in Britain.

 

You’ve been touring the film at various festivals for a while now, how does it feel taking your film and showing it to various parts of the world?

Justin Kurzel: It’s exciting to see whether the story resonates with different cultures and countries and you know I just feel really proud that even though it’s a dark and brutal Australian story, the production of it is being embraced in many different areas, and people seem to be excited or compelled and interested in it or confronted in the same way wherever we go so its obviously got a universal appeal there in terms of the character and the story.

 

I find that Australian and British films have got a very similar gritty realism to them – what do you think it is about Snowtown that will make it a success over here in Britain?

Justin Kurzel: I think the British have a fascination and curiosity with Australia and Australian crime and I think that shows with the success of many other Australian films over here, but I do think both countries make very visceral films that are very unique and immersive and I think Snowtown has many similarities to some films that have been really embraced here, so hopefully it will catch on and find an audience.

 

Have either of you been surprised at how well-received the film has been?

Lucas Pittaway: I have. I didn’t know anything about how big the film could be. For all I knew, it could have been a college production when I was working on it. So I’m surprised.

 

This was both of your debut features films, as well as many others – how much of an impact does it have on the overall production to have so many fresh faces on board?

Justin Kurzel: It brings bravery and a kind of energy that only first time filmmakers have which is like making your first album. That’s what I always love about rock albums, when you can feel this energy in the album and it’s really raw and slightly chaotic and it feels like a real marking of time, and that is definitely what we felt like. There was this fearlessness about making it as we had nothing to lose being our first film. So that energy definitely made the film what it is.

 

Lucas, you were first approached about the film when shopping. That must have been quite a surprise.

Lucas Pittaway: Yeah at first I thought it was a scam, when someone says do you wanna audition for a film you don’t know what to expect really. When they offered me the role I just shocked. I didn’t know what to say.

 

Was acting something you had previously considered?

Lucas Pittaway: No, I failed drama and I didn’t get along with my drama teacher at all. I kinda hope he sees this film so he thinks, ‘dammit’. I was planning on joining the army and I had never even thought the prospect of acting would ever come up in my life.

 

So now you’ve had a taste of it, is this a path you would like to go down now?

Lucas Pittaway: Yeah, I’ve signed with agencies now and I have big auditions and everything like that, so I’ve caught the bug and I really want to pursue it as hard as I can.

 

 

So when you were stopped just shopping, did you ever envisage that two years down the line you would be sitting in London, promoting your new film?

Lucas Pittaway: I actually said to Justin last night when seven floors up, you never told me. You never explained this possibility to me.

 

This is a very famous story, particularly in Australia, and one that you will have both grown up with on the news and stuff. Is this is a film you had been planning for a while Justin?

Justin Kurzel: No it came completely out of the blue, I grew up very close to where the murders actually happened, and I was just sent the script but I wasn’t told what it was. I opened it up and it said Snowtown and I thought, I wonder if it is the Snowtown, because when you mention that word everyone knows what it is, and it was. As I started reading it I thought it was going to be a horror film but I started reading the story and I had no idea about the relationships between these characters. I was completely captivated by such relationships and by Jamie’s journey. I was scared shitless of doing it, and felt great trepidation about doing it, but felt so compelled to jump and just go for it.

 

On of my favourite aspects to the film was that it could so easily have gone down the gory route but so much was left to our imaginations which makes it so much more affecting. Was that something you were always keen on employing?

Justin Kurzel: I never wanted the violence to leave the film, as it needed to be revealed to the audience as it was revealed to Jamie and a lot of it should be in third and that if we are going to get the audience close to the brutality of the events then it should happen at very particular turning points for his character and that was our guiding light throughout the whole film. I don’t think it’s as explicit as many other films but its hard-hitting and that’s because the violence is being portrayed in a very real and honest way, its not hiding behind any convention of the genre.

 

Do you think that by growing up relatively close to the setting of the film, gave it a touch of authenticity?

Justin Kurzel: Oh, definitely. It gave me access to the actual community that I used to live in and they felt as though they could trust me and I had love for the area, and I didn’t want to come and in and judge it. I really wanted to show the humanity in the events and for the audience to have empathy for the environment that it’s taking place. I wasn’t going in doing a hatchet job of the place. It sounds odd but it was almost a love letter to a place I am extremely fond of.

 

Lucas, it’s a very challenging role for you, with little dialogue and so much of what you don’t see, with much emphasise on just facial expressions. Were you nervous when first reading the script – because for a debut feature it’s a very difficult role to take on?

Lucas Pittaway: First time I went through the script and saw the scenes I thought, how the hell am I going to do that? But once we started shooting my first scene, which was emotional, I felt that now I’ll be able to do the next scene, and so on. It was like stepping stones. It was also shot in chronological order so I went through the same rollercoaster of emotions that Jamie did.

 

Was it quite difficult getting in to the mindset of someone, who albeit quite impressionable, was still a murderer none the less, or at least an accessory to a few murders?

Lucas Pittaway: Yeah it was exhausting and it was a strange thing because playing the character I didn’t feel like a murderer or anything, I felt like a kid who had a father figure in his life, and then after a scene where Jamie gets involved, I thought now he’s done this he’s guilty, and he’s lost all sense of morale.

 

It seems like it was quite a difficult film to make, as its full of emotion and drama – do you think that the fact all of you were working together, for the first time in film, it helped knowing that your all on a similar level?

Lucas Pittaway: Exactly that. It didn’t feel like it was our first time.

Justin Kurzel: When you have a bunch of first-timers you’re all prepared to fail, and we were. More importantly we were really desperate to get it right and to that the subject matter with integrity and respect. It was actually a really loving set; we actually had a lot of fun together and enjoyed each others company. It’s quite ironic that with the subject matter we’re dealing with and the emotional intensity of the scenes we had to bring to life, its not surprising that when we said cut we all needed to cleanse ourselves of what we had just gone through, so we did that with humour and with affection and love towards each other. I’ve never been on a set before that had such a strong bond and sense of camaraderie and such a great sense of humour and respect for each individual and I feel that a lot of that had to do with the gravity of what we were making and that there were no divas on set and everyone was respected in the same way.

 

So are either you at all tentative about going onto your next project, knowing that there could be a lot of people who have been doing this for a number of years, in what could be a much bigger production perhaps?

Lucas Pittaway: I’m looking forward to taking the next step. If Snowtown was diving in at the deep end, then going on to the next thing will be diving in at the deep end again. I can’t wait to experience the next level of acting for me.

 

So what’s up next for you both? Have either of you got anything in the pipeline?

Lucas Pittaway: When I get back to Australia I have two really big auditions I’m going for, so hopefully they go well.

Justin Kurzel: I’m developing a couple of projects in Australia. I’m reading a lot of books and scripts, trying to find that film that captures my imagination as much as Snowtown did.

 

 

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SNOWTOWN HITS CINEMAS ON NOVEMBER 18