Programme Note: The Hunter
Based on a 1999 novel of the same name by Julia Leigh, who more recently wrote and directed Sleeping Beauty (2011), The Hunter stars Willem Dafoe as Martin David, enlisted by a biotech company to bring them evidence – blood, skin, and organs – of the Tasmanian tiger, declared extinct in 1982 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
While conducting his initial research, David views grainy black and white footage of his target, also known as a thylacine, in an enclosure. This genuine piece of film from 1933, less than a minute long, shows the last known living Tasmanian tiger in Hobart Zoo, Tasmania, which died in 1936. The species' extinction is attributed to several factors: after sheep were introduced to the island in 1824 the relationship between colonists and thylacines became strained and, with bounties introduced by parliament, their numbers declined severely over the next fifty years. In addition to this government-supported hunting, their habitat also suffered due to human interference, and a distemper-like disease furthered their decline. Despite there being no scientific evidence to indicate that the thylacine still exists, rumours and sightings persist as people refuse to give up on the romantic notion of the animal's survival. Andrew Pask, an Australian zoologist at the University of Melbourne, is quoted as saying, ‘there’s been no evidence ever brought forward for it... Tasmania’s not that big, and even its most inaccessible parts are not that inaccessible... I think if these were out there in the wild they would have been discovered by now.’ 
The inclusion of footage of the last known Tasmanian tiger, particularly one in captivity, adds a poignant touch to Daniel Nettheim's film. The facts surrounding the animal's extinction are not explicitly stated; rather this is a film that relies on suggestion and implication. David, who apparently sees no ethical problem in being employed to kill what may be the last remaining example of an entire species, is the film's focus, yet there are hints as to continuing political and environmental conflicts on the small island. The threat of deforestation is ever present, with David coming in contact with both loggers and protesters during his excursions and, rather than portray the former as villains, it is pointed out that whether it is jobs or the landscape, something will be lost regardless of which side wins. This contemporary relevance was enhanced by Nettheim's decision to use real activists and loggers in group scenes. ‘There’s certainly a lot of mutual distrust and antipathy between the two opposing elements,’ he said in a recent interview. ‘I think that these are smart people who, when they’re calm, can articulate their position very well and very persuasively, but tempers can get pretty nasty. That conflict between the loggers and the environmentalists trying to protect the old growth forest, it was hinted at in the book but it was much more prevalent in the film. Thematically the battle to save the forest is a continuation of the same story as the extinction of the tiger, but also dramatically it allowed us to put heat on the character much more. To have this undercurrent of threat and tension surrounding him the whole time.’ 
While there are serious environmental implications to the events in the film – as relevant today as when the source novel was published over a decade ago – this is largely a character study. The search for the elusive Tasmanian tiger is the catalyst that sees Dafoe's nameless mercenary (Martin David is an alias) begin to forge human relationships and silently question the ethics of his occupation. There are similarities to Ryan Gosling's character in Drive (Dir. Nicholas Winding Refn, 2011); in both cases their backgrounds and names remain unknown, they both encounter a struggling mother and her family, and they are both taciturn anti-heroes who display a moral ambiguity. Dafoe successfully communicates a wealth of emotion and conflict without saying a word, and The Hunter is most impressive during David's lone treks through the Tasmanian wilderness. In these scenes, the goal of locating an animal that even he himself doesn't expect to find is secondary to his willing isolation from the rest of humanity. Yet this is more than a simple ‘man against nature’ fable. As Nettheim says, ‘it starts off as a man vs. nature story and it ends up as man vs. himself. This is a man whose work as a hunter involves trying to be at one with nature... He is one with nature, understands nature, but his business there is very destructive. What we wanted to speak about was the uneasy relationship that has always existed between mankind and the natural environment.’ 
Filmed on location in various parts of Tasmania, the landscape is inextricably linked with David's journey. Lacking the polished style of big budget nature documentaries such as BBC's Planet Earth, the natural environment is as important a character in The Hunter as David. Ranging from waterlogged marshland, to yellow plains, lush green forest, to misty grey mountaintops, Robert Humphrey's cinematography is reminiscent of that in films by Werner Herzog, such as Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972) and Fitzcarraldo (1982), where the jungles are evidence of both nature's beauty, and its brutality. The environment dictated some of the film's tone also; because of Tasmania's rapidly changing climate, exterior scenes with extended dialogue were impossible, and David's wardrobe had to be limited to one outfit in an attempt to retain some sense of continuity. Yet The Hunter's producer, Vincent Shaheen, stated that there was never any doubt they would shoot on the island, because ‘this wilderness is quite unique and extraordinary and unlike anything you'll find elsewhere in the world or even on the mainland.’  The resulting film takes advantage of this unique environment, matching it perfectly with the subtle nuances of Dafoe's acting talents to create a careful character study, and a contemplative thriller with an unexpectedly poignant conclusion.
Researcher (University of Glasgow) and journalist
 Benjamin Radford (2012) 'Is the Tasmanian Tiger Alive?', accessed 7 July 2012 at: http://news.discovery.com/animals/extinct-tasmanian-tiger-120125.html
 Craig Kennedy (2012) 'Australian director Daniel Nettheim on his film “The Hunter” starring Willem Dafoe', accessed 7 July 2012 at: http://livingincinema.com/2012/04/06/australian-director-daniel-nettheim-on-his-film-the-hunter-starring-willem-dafoe/
 Dorri Olds (2012) 'Q&A: Daniel Nettheim, Director of “The Hunter”', accessed 7 July 2012 at: http://open.salon.com/blog/dorriolds/2012/04/05/qa_daniel_nettheim_director_of_the_hunter_movie_opens_friday_4612
 'Willem Dafoe films scenes for The Hunter near Hobart', accessed 7 July 2012 at: http://www.couriermail.com.au/entertainment-old/willem-dafoe-films-scenes-for-the-hunter-near-hobart/story-e6freq7f-1225948133550