Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Thursday August 22, 2019 


Writer/director Jonathan Auf Der Heide wants to portray the story of convict cannibal Alexander Pearce with honesty and authenticity, as he explains in this statement about his first feature, Van Diemenís Land. You can LISTEN to the conversation between Jonathan, the filmís star Oscar Redding, and Andrew L. Urban.

Itís impossible to grow up in Tasmania without being aware of the true story of Alexander Pearce and his fateful escape. The myth of the ĎVan Diemenís Land Cannibalí is one of Tasmanian folklore and has found its way into countless books or songs. But little is known by the general public of the fate of Pearce and his fellow escapees beyond the titillating myth of murder and cannibalism.

In the past, works such as For the Term of His Natural Life (Marcus Clarke) took liberties with the events and portrayed Pearce as a bloodthirsty monster that lured fellow convicts into the bush to dine on their flesh. Itís my belief that such misconceptions and exaggerations havenít done the story justice. They only scrape the surface as to why a man would go to such lengths; and how colonial Australia could produce such a horrific brutal tale. Portraying Pearce as a monster is the easy story to tell and was a marketable product for 19th century audiences. But today we demand honesty no matter how confronting.

The true and documented events of what happened in 1822 are horrific enough without embellishment. To characterise Pearce as a human being, not so very different in his essential nature to you or I, as a man who through extraordinary events did what he had to do to survive, is what makes this story interesting and relevant to an audience today.

"Is it human instinct to kill in order to survive?"

Perhaps it's not the anticipation of who is to be killed next or the desperate fight for freedom that makes this story intriguing, but more so the questions it asks of its audience. Itís the great stories that, once weíre witness to them, leave us changed. Itís the great stories whose essence and meaning resonate to affect our own lives through understanding. Itís the great stories that create a momentum of their own and demand to be watched and heard. The true story of Alexander Pearce is one of those stories.

Eight convicts venture through the heart of the wilderness and into the wildness of their own nature. In their bid for freedom they take us into a brutal world that confronts us with questions of our instinctual nature. Is it human instinct to kill in order to survive? I believe itís the very reason as to why weíre here today and consequently, underneath our veil of Ďcivilizationí is a repressed need for violence. Van Diemenís Land not only explores Australiaís dark colonial past but it also questions our very idea of what it is to be human.

Jonathan grew up in Tasmania where, in the early days of British settlement the convict Alexander Pearce and his comrades were kept captive on Sarah Island. Jonathan has held a long time ambition to bring this story to the screen and embarked on study at the VCA School of Film and Television (University of Melbourne) to develop the necessary skills, including moonlighting on Paul Coxís latest film Salvation as the Assistant Editor.

Jonathanís VCA graduating film Hellís Gates was a preview to this feature and has earned success in its own right screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival, the Showcase for Australian contemporary cinema at the Australia America Society in New York and in competition at the 31st edition of the Rencontres Henri Langlois International Film Schools Festival.

An experienced actor, Jonathan has performed with many Tasmanian and Victorian companies including the Melbourne Theatre Company and ensemble outfit The Keene Taylor Project that premiered the works of playwright Daniel Keene.

Jonathan regularly teaches for the VCA Foundation Course.

Published September 24, 2009

Email this article

Jonathan Auf Der Heide


Oscar Redding


Further reading Ė other projects dealing with this subject:
Dying Breed

The Last Confession

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2019