Van Diemen’s Land


By Clint Morris

It’s definitely got enough sauce, but “Van Diemen’s Land” really needed a bit more meat to truly satisfy.

Much like the country (Tassie) itself, Jonathan Auf Der Heide’s intriguing piece on 1800s cannibal convict Alexander Pearce is very, very pretty but it’s also small and not as easy to get into (as the other states).

Like one of those disconcerting low-rent re-enactments they used to do of real-life crimes for TV s “Australia’s Most Wanted” (only without the dodgy accents and performances), much of what takes place here plays more like the middle chapter in an interesting three-part documentary that you’d usually find on cable. Considering we’re talking about a thrilling real-life story involving a cannibal convict here – a man who lost it in the harsh terrain of Van Diemen’s Land, and ultimately turned on his own people to survive, that’s probably not the result everyone hoped for – least of which, the audience.

You’d think, considering the premise, emphasis might’ve been more on thrills and less on impressive footage of the currents of the Gordon River?

In 1822, eight convicts (including the legendary Alexander Pearce) escaped Macquarie Harbour in a fateful bid for freedom. This band of Irish, English and Scottish thieves were immediately hurled into chaos as their plan failed and they were thrust into the heart of a harsh and foreboding landscape. And pretty soon, their stomach’s started to rumble…

Considering it cost only about as much as a couple of nights at a Vegas hotel to make, it’s quite admirable what Tasmanian filmmaker Jonathan Auf Der Heide has been able to do with the limited budget and resources on hand. The VCA graduate (whose third year film was actually a short-film based on Pearce) knows exactly what to shoot, where to shoot, and how to shoot. It’s a very polished production indeed. He has a bright future in this industry.

He also proves he’s got a great eye for casting. Oscar Redding (reprising the role he played in ‘s graduating piece on Pearce) gives a masterful performance as the flesh-eating European, and a very talented cast of new faces backs him up. As Auf Fer Heide has said in interviews, the film wouldn’t have worked had a familiar face played Pearce, and he’s right – this is one of those films where you need to see a ‘character’ not a ‘movie star’. Given a little more to do, and some of these ‘characters’… er…actors… might have been frocking up for the AFI Awards this year. They’re all quite good.

It might’ve been wise for Auf Der Heide to take one last pass at the screenplay before beginning production on the film though, because in it’s current state its undercooked, near pink in fact.

There are a few things the screenplay lacks, but mostly a punchy pace and a reason to care about the core characters. Much like one of those later “Friday the 13th” or “Nightmare on Elm Street” sequels, you don’t much care who ‘gets it’ next – you just sort of watch the numbers dwindle down, knowing the film will be over when it’s only Pearce who stands – and you should. Because everything is a tad underwritten, we don’t get to know any of the characters much better than a nun would midori.

“Van Diemen’s Land” is worth a visit – if only a fleeting one.