Snowtown director making movie about Port Arthur mass killer Martin Bryant

Port Arthur mass murderer Martin Bryant is the subject of a bound-to-be-controversial new movie now in production in Geelong.

Directed by Justin Kurzel, whose acclaimed debut feature Snowtown was based on the true story of South Australian serial killer John Bunting, and whose most recent film was True History of the Kelly Gang, the movie stars American actor Caleb Landry Jones as Bryant, who murdered 35 people and injured 23 others in a shooting spree at the historic Port Arthur site in Tasmania in April 1996.

American actor Caleb Landry Jones, seen here in Antiviral (2012), has been cast as the lead character in Nitram.

Landry Jones, 29, is an actor and musician but is perhaps best known for supporting turns as slightly disturbed and disturbing young men in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri and Get Out.

The movie is being made for Stan (which is owned by Nine, publisher of this masthead), but will debut at the Melbourne International Film Festival next year ahead of a brief theatrical season before releasing on the streamer.

Under the working title Nitram (Martin spelt backwards), it has been shooting for three weeks. It is understood the producers opted to shoot in Victoria rather than Tasmania for fear the subject matter would still prove too sensitive for the state where Bryant went on his murderous rampage at the age of 29.

Though details are still under wraps, this masthead understands the film does not depict any of the murders, but rather focuses on the events leading up to the day in a bid to understand the factors that led to the development of a serial killer.

Landry Jones is one of the rising stars of his generation.Credit:AP

It is understood that the film does not name Bryant, and assigns fictional names or titles such as "Mother" to other characters.

Judy Davis plays the man's mother and Anthony LaPaglia plays his father. Essie Davis (no relation) – a native Tasmanian and Kurzel's wife – plays Helen, a wealthy woman who befriends the young man.

Nitram is written by Shaun Grant, who has previously collaborated with Kurzel on Snowtown and Kelly Gang, and wrote the screenplays for Berlin Syndrome, Jasper Jones and the forthcoming family drama Penguin Bloom.

It is being produced by Good Thing Productions, the Melbourne-based company that has earned a reputation for socially conscious filmmaking with the likes of the Adam Goodes documentary The Australian Dream and Damon Gameau's documentaries That Sugar Film and 2040. While some of its work has edged into risky territory – the dark fight-club-in-a-detention-centre comedy-drama Below especially so – this film is likely to prove its most controversial by far.

In a statement issued on Monday, Stan chief content officer Nick Forward said the streamer had "complete faith in the Nitram team's creative vision and ability to handle the film's subject matter with sensitivity and respect".

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