To celebrate the release of AACTA-winning The Hunter on DVD and Blu-ray in Australia, and in cinemas around the US, we had a chance to ask director Daniel Nettheim a few questions on the film, and his reactions to the themes at the other end of the film process.
Based on the acclaimed novel by Julia Leigh, writer and director of the recent Sleeping Beauty, THE HUNTER is a powerful psychological drama that tells the story of Martin (Willem Dafoe), a mercenary sent from Europe by a mysterious biotech company to the Tasmanian wilderness on a dramatic hunt for the last Tasmanian Tiger.
We need to thank Madman, and of course, Mr. Nettheim for taking time to answer our questions.
Congratulations on the continued international success of the film, and the recent AACTA nominations. Now that you are on the other side of the film process, does the Tasmanian Tiger still hold the same mystery and sway for you?
Probably more than ever. I went into this project as a Tassie Tiger ‘sceptic’, not believing there was any real possibility of the creature still being out there. However, I was seduced by the passion and enthusiasm of many of the tiger ‘believers’ we met in Tasmania, and heard some pretty convincing stories. I’m now a lot more open to the possibility that the creature could still be lurking somewhere in all that unchartered Wilderness.
Julia Leigh’s voice is very distinctive. Did that present any unique challenges when adapting to the screen?
The book was very internal, so we had to find ways to externalise the drama and flesh out aspects of the story that Julia as a novelist had skilfully avoided. What we did try very hard to hold onto was the tone and poetry of her writing, as well as the great sense of awe and beauty in her descriptions of the landscape. The novel really is a wonderful piece of literature and I recommend it to anyone, regardless of whether they’ve already seen the film or not.
Was Willem Dafoe always in mind for the lead role, and how do you think his presence impacted the course of the film?
Willem was on our very first wish list, and it was always useful for me to imagine his face when working on the script. His interpretation of the character was spot on, and lifted the story to another level. I would also have to add that his name has been extremely useful in terms of marketing and selling the film around the world.
The film touches on this, but how did the locals in Tasmania receive you in that particular landscape?
We got an extraordinary amount of enthusiasm and support for the project from the locals we met. And this includes both sides of the debate in the battle to save the forests, a political climate which is present in the background of the story. We had local loggers and greenies playing themselves in certain scenes, with a serious dedication towards getting a fair representation on film. More importantly, the film was passionately received by Tasmanian audiences, and the State Theatre in Hobart was the number one venue for the film in Australia.
Still on the landscape, were there specific stylistic influences you and Robert Humphreys looked at when shooting Tasmania?
We looked at a lot of seventies ‘New Hollywood’ films, particularly those shot in scope; The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, Deliverance, Five Easy Pieces, Southern Comfort. We also looked at some of Herzog’s great landscape films, and some more local films like The Piano, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Vigil and the underrated and rarely seen Tasmanian film The Tale of Ruby Rose. The influence of all these works is present at various places in the film.
Has the Australian film industry changed in your time making films? Is it easier or harder now?
Every project is hard. Even for the most experienced directors and producers, starting a new project can be like going back to square one, reinventing the wheel and learning your craft all over again. We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t love it, but I haven’t seen it getting any easier.
What projects have you got lined up for the near future?
I’m reading scripts right now, looking for something that will appeal to me as much as The Hunter did.