Kurzel-Town: Director Justin Kurzel talks Snowtown

Director of the outstanding Snowtown – Justin Kurzel – took some time out of his well deserved Cannes-paign to talk with Blake Howard about the experience of his masterpiece…

BH: Snowtown feels like a scientific experiment, it creates/portrays the conditions that a serial killing troupe can exist. How much did the setting and local cast affect what your decisions during the shoot? JK: This was a film, which needed to be told from the inside out so we were incredibly informed by what the environment and people were telling us it wanted to be. Many ideas came from being there and really observing the pretty unique psychology of the place. Definitely some of those round table conversations about paedophilia in the area came from very real workshops about the subject matter. Sexual abuse is a very passionate and prominent problem in the area and some of those arguments and ideas were really sculpted from people’s real thoughts and ideas.

BH: For me, this film gives Lars von Trier’s stunning Dogville (the fictional nightmare commentary of smalltown incestuous human impulse and ignorance). Did you have any directorial or filmic influences in mind when you were filming?
JK: Not really. I didn’t watch many films at all as I really wanted to be not influenced by anything else other than the real community and landscape we were filming in. I guess the way Michael Haneke rarely shows what is causing the violence in his films, where the film is more about how the characters respond and relate to the violence around them is a real inspiration to the structure and psychology in Snowtown. In terms of Australian films I think there is a really strong heritage of muscular dark crime films which goes all the way back to Wake in Fright, Romper Stomper, The Boys and Chopper. I do think there is something very particular about how we portray violence and masculinity on screen. I’m sure these films in some unconscious way affected our approach to Snowtown.

BH: When I think about Henshall’s performance – the contrast between his sweetness (in true socio ‘psycho’pathic form) towards those he cares and the clinical artistry of his brutality is memorable to say the least. How much did you fashion Daniel’s performance and how much did he bring to the character?JK: To Daniel and I it was really important that the audience understood how this man came to be trusted and let in to this community. Through our research we discovered that John was a bit of an everyman, someone who was very sociable and present within the community. So at the beginning it was important for Dan to find an ease in the community and develop very genuine relationships with the other cast. He spent 10 weeks in the area and started to find the skin of the John character. He put on 10 kg and spent as much time possible with the family especially Lucas and the boys. I didn’t want Dan to read too much about serial killers, it was important that he just be very present and intimate with the other characters and approach the role on a very real and human level.

BH: Where you ever conscious of distancing yourself from the Australian True Crime T.V interpretations that seemingly glamorize serial killers?
JK: Well there had been a couple pretty sensationalist documentaries about the murders, which I thought, were very one-dimensional and more like a body count film. I also didn’t want to glamorize the violence like in some true crime TV but instead make it very real and confronting. When I read all the transcripts I was shocked by the brutality and I wanted its horror to be extremely truthful, not distorted but visceral and affecting.

BH: How long do we have to wait for your next film?JK: Hopefully next year I will be making a film with my brother Jed who did the music with Snowtown. It’s a black comedy and obviously very different from Snowtown.

After Snowtown – my ticket’s already bought.

Read Blake’s review of Snowtown here.

Blake Howard is a writer/site director/podcaster at the castleco-op.com.