Sydney Film Festival

Director defends convict movie after festival walkouts

Dubliner Aisling Franciosi stars in the chilling convict-era movie The Nightingale.

Dubliner Aisling Franciosi stars in the chilling convict-era movie The Nightingale.

The director of a new Australian movie starring Irish actress Aisling Francioisi has defended the film after a number of patrons walked out of Sydney Film Festival screenings.

The unhappy film-goers singled out the film’s graphic depictions of rape and murder but director Jennifer Kent said The Nightingale, set in colonial-era Tasmania, was “not ‘about’ violence”.

"The Nightingale contains historically accurate depictions of colonial violence and racism towards our Indigenous people," she told the ABC.

"Both Aisling Franciosi and myself have been personally contacted by more than a few victims of sexual violence after screenings who are grateful for the film's honesty and who have drawn comfort from its themes,” she added.

"I do not believe this would be happening if the film was at all gratuitous or exploitative.

"We've made this film in collaboration with Tasmanian Aboriginal elders, and they feel it's an honest and necessary depiction of their history and a story that needs to be told.

"I remain enormously proud of the film."

At the Sydney premiere on Sunday at the Ritz cinema in Randwick, the ABC reported that one woman walked out during the early stages, shouting: "I'm not watching this. She's already been raped twice."

Set in 1825, The Nightingale tells the story of Clare, a young Irish convict woman, who chases a British officer through the rugged Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. On the way she enlists the services of an Aboriginal tracker named Billy, who is also marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past.

Kent was determined that the violence in the film would be an honest and authentic depiction; that in order to respect those who suffered and died in this period, she wouldn’t shy away from the truth of what happened.

“Many Australians know what happened in certain parts of the country during that time, and other people don't,” Kent explains. “A lot of people outside Australia know nothing or very little about it. I couldn't go into this part of our history and water it down.”

“Like many other countries that have been colonized, the indigenous people of Australia were subject to horrendous treatment by the colonizers. The systems of power were brutal, and I wanted The Nightingale to reflect this.”

The film was awarded the Special Jury Prize, and Baykali Ganambarr received the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor at the Venice Film Festival.