The Disappearance of Willie Bingham might sound like a horror film, but we assure you, this political satire is much scarier.
Written by Michael Fawcett (in an original short story called The Wilbur Bledsoe Amputations) and directed by Matt Richards, the 12-minute film imagines a not-too-distant Australia wherein amputations are the new form of capital punishment.
The story tells the tale of Willie Bingham, who is found guilty of murdering a woman. The first to undergo this amended criminal justice system, the inmate gets his limbs dismembered, with the victim’s family choosing which parts to remove and to what extent.
Worse, he’s wheeled out to schools and displayed in front of students, serving as a warning to those who do not want to follow the rules.
The short is disturbing and shocking to watch, not because of ghouls or demons, but due to something closer to home: reality.
In a world where politicians are becoming bolder and dumber (yes, we know which politician you’re thinking about right now), a policy like this being adopted in the near future doesn’t sound so farfetched.
While the film is presented with a touch of dark comedy, it ultimately warns us to be vigilant against oppressive states, and to be wary of exchanging civil liberties for unfair justice systems that ‘protect’ us.
After all, anyone could be the next Willie Bingham. Even you.
We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Richards to find out more about the short film. C
Where’d you get the idea for the concept behind The Disappearance of Willie Bingham?
“The idea for The Disappearance of Willie Bingham came from writer Michael Fawcett who wrote an incredible short story called The Wilbur Bledsoe Amputations. It was set in the USA and was more of a monologue than a visual film.
“Our task was transitioning as much as possible to be more ‘how can we show this’ instead of just ‘telling’ it. I was immediately drawn to the dark sense of tragic humour in it, that’s really gallows humour where when something is so grim often the best way to deal with it is to laugh.”
Watching the short film gave us chills – and not in a good way. How were you able to produce something so disturbing and powerful? What was your creative process like when you were making it?
“The creative process was fueled by this idea of bureaucracy gone mad. To explore this person who decided he was ‘just doing his job’ in overseeing Willie Bingham through the procedures. It functions as a ghost story with a narrator telling a tale of a man who once was but is now a ‘ghost’ of his former self.
“Having great actors really helped bring it to life and when I found and cast Kevin Dee as Willie I knew he’d be capable of creating the empathy needed to confront the audience in the way I was hoping.
“I wanted to mix things up and get some onscreen diversity as well and was interested in working with an Aboriginal lead and that led us to Greg Fryer. We looked at other actors with higher profiles but when we head Greg’s incredible voice, whisky-smooth, refined with years of theatre performance we knew instantly that he would be able to bring that depth and theatricality needed.
“The rest came down to great crew; solid lighting, superb sound design and convincing VFX which I knew was key to ‘selling’ it.”
What does the film try to tell the audience about the current penal system and capital punishment?
“The film tries to get the audience to think about the nature of punishment and how we distance ourselves by letting systems take care of things for us. It forces us to empathise with someone we would otherwise not by revealing the human side of incredible punishment.
“It’s similar to the way we dehumanise suspected terrorists held in Guantanamo bay or refugees held in Papua New Guinea without knowing if they are innocent or not. Out of mind, out of site.
“These people are human beings just like you and I. They may have made terrible mistakes, they may be innocent. We have a choice to rise above and see them not as monsters but as people.”
With all the crazy things happening in the world today, do you foresee this revised stance on capital crime being implemented (or even just considered) in the future?
“I don’t see this particular revised stance of capital crime being implemented any time but I am very concerned about the continued erosion of human rights by corporations and governments all under the guise of protecting us from evil.
“I find the term ‘Evil’ offensive and related to the sort of black and white thinking that is entirely unhelpful in ever learning to understand ourselves better.
“I think a big issue that needs to be addressed is mental health. It’s not normal to want to kill people, if it was we’d all be doing it so I think we need to treat it as an illness and get to the bottom of issues around social and self-worth, jealousy as well as community and inclusion.”
What are you working on next?
“I’m working on a few things, I have another short film set to shoot early next year based on a short story called Lone Pine by Australian author David Malouf that looks at an act of random violence.
“I am also hoping to get my first feature shot later next year. This is a psychological thriller dealing with foreign worker exploitation and is set on a remote farm in Australia. It’s based on a true story.”