by writer/director Jennifer Kent
Empathy is a quality that ennobles humans. It’s one of the most important qualities that can potentially lead us towards evolution. And yet I see our capacity for empathy disappearing in our modern world at an alarming rate.
In sitting down to write The Nightingale, I wanted to meditate on the importance of empathy in dark times; on the challenge of employing compassion and kindness, even when everything around us is telling us to harden our hearts.
It’s easy to love others when everything is going well. Much more difficult to do this when the world is falling down around our ears and darkness pervades. But this is the very time we need to enlist these qualities.
In bringing the characters of The Nightingale to life with my actors and crew, I wanted to highlight what it means to lose sight of empathy and compassion. I wanted to show the true cost of violence, ignorance and hatred. But most importantly I wanted to explore the idea that no matter how bad things get, we always have a choice as humans. Do we contribute to the darkness? Or do we to find a way stay focused on the light?
It was not easy to consider taking on a story that was essentially a shared narrative between a white woman and an Aboriginal man. I knew from the get go if I was going to take it on, I needed to collaborate with Tasmanian Aboriginal people or it wouldn’t happen. This is what led me to Tasmanian Aboriginal elder uncle Jim Everett. Working with Jim on The Nightingale was one of the most profound experiences of my life. Jim is a highly respected author, poet and storyteller in his own right. He’s been a political activist for many decades, a natural leader who has worked tirelessly to strengthen the rights of his people. We were very lucky to have his support on this project. In fact, if we didn’t have him on board, the film quite simply would never have been made.
Jim was always rigorous with the story from first draft to final cut, and suitably protective of his people’s history, but also incredibly inclusive of my telling of this story. He reminded me whenever I was finding it tough or I got scared of what I’d taken on (which was often during the course of this film) that this was a shared story, and that we were telling it together.
I cannot put into words how I feel about being given a small insight into Aboriginal culture through Jim’s involvement, as well as the involvement of a number of other Aboriginal people, including Baykali Ganambarr who plays Billy. It is, as an Australian, truly significant. I owe them everything.
In making this film, I pay my respects to them, the traditional owners of the land I am fortunate enough to call my home.