Snowtown is the best known film that Australia has made in recent years. No research or focus groups or any of that business proves this bold statement but I'm confident I could win a debate on the topic.
Snowtown is based on the true story of South Australia's bodies-in-the-barrel case – not that I need to remind anyone. At the time of its release in May 2011, I was struck by how often non-film industry people asked me about it: from people I hardly knew to life-long farmer friends.
Once again the film is front of mind because I've been telling anyone who cares to listen that SBS has a short Australian season starting this Saturday and this notorious film is the only film in the bunch with a 100 percent recognition value.
What interests me is why. Is it just because it is a notorious case and because the content is so hardcore?
“I think the level of recognition is unusual for this type of film and believe it is the filmmakers' approach to the story that made it resonate so strongly with the general public,” says Gabrielle Oldaker from Madman, the gutsy distributor that ushered Snowtown into cinemas. “They took a very authentic approach, were careful not to sensationalise the story and were very true to real events.”
For films not released on hundreds and hundreds of screens, word of mouth (WOM) determines a film's penetration and Madman created fertile conditions for this using Q&A sessions with the filmmakers across the country.
“The polarising reviews across media also fuelled discussion which was paramount to creating a must-see reason to go for our audience,” says Oldaker.
I would argue that more people told themselves 'I don't want to see a film this violent' than said 'I'm going to go and make up my own mind' but that's okay.
What's not arguable is the extent to which Nine Network reviewer Richard Wilkins drove WOM with his '0' rating and his comments: “I think it is the most disgusting, horrific, depraved and degrading film I have ever seen. This is as close to a snuff movie as I ever want to see. I don't care if it's rooted in truth or not, it's appalling. I've seen it so you don't have to.”
Oldaker estimates that at least 313,920 people saw Snowtown nationally: 80,000 on the big screen, 20,000 online (legally), 22,000 on DVD and 4,000 on Blu Ray – assuming two people watched each time – and 162,000 on the sadly new defunct Movie One on pay TV.
For the record, when I saw Snowtown at the world premiere at the Adelaide Film Festival, I thought the bath sequence would haunt me for the rest of my life. It hasn't.
Snowtown screens on SBS ONE this Saturday at 9.30pm.