Acute Misfortune

MIFF Acute Misformation film stillBased on Acute Misfortune: The Life and Death of Adam Cullen by Erik Jensen, the film adaptation of the award-winning biography is a true story, taking place in Sydney and the Blue Mountains between 2008 to 2012.

Erik Jensen was an ambitious nineteen year-old journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald when he was commissioned to write a profile of the painter Adam Cullen, who at forty two was the subject of a career retrospective at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

After reading the article, Cullen invited Jensen to write his biography for Thames and Hudson. Acute Misfortune is the story of the biographer and his subject, told inside the years Jensen spent on and off with the painter. It is the story of their increasingly
claustrophobic relationship.

The Cullen that Jensen met was an iconic figure. His quotes were reported across the press. But he was also violent and unpredictable. In turn, Jensen was both ruthless and naive – and in Cullen he found a subject he could not hope to understand. He was overwhelmed by him, desperate to know him and trapped by his own hubris.

Cullen lied to Jensen. He shot him in the leg with a shotgun. He threw him from a motorbike. In time, it became clear that the publishing deal itself was a lie. There was no contract with Thames and Hudson. Yet Jensen continued researching and writing the book, for four years. The question of why is a central one of the film.

His health failing, Cullen was arrested in possession of multiple illegal firearms and faced a sentence of fifteen years. Spared jail under the mental health act, he had one final interview with his biographer. These are true events, told almost entirely in real dialogue taken from Erik’s shorthand notebooks and Adam’s own writing and recorded interviews.

Acute Misfortune is not a traditional film biography of an artist, but a questioning of that biography and of the circumstances that led to its writing. It is a closely researched film that reveals an iconic artist and an acclaimed journalist in unsparing detail.
It is a film about theft and the commerce of theft, the instability of lies and the consequences of a flawed contract; and about coming through a relationship to find meaning in its wake.

Acute Misfortune is the first feature of writer / director Thomas M. Wright, an award-winning director, producer, writer and production designer and the co-founder and director of The Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm. The film was co-written with Jensen, a Walkley-award winning journalist and the founder and editor of The Saturday Paper.

Adam was a distinctly Australian artist and for a time his work was incisive, associative, breathtaking in its insights into this country and its culture,” said Thomas M. Wright. “Through the rights holders of the Cullen estate we have had unprecedented access to his archives, work, journals, private photographs and personal materials – many of which appear in the film.”

“The book on which it is based is a shattered biography, a work of journalism that is precise and unrelenting. It was our task to unravel it into a narrative feature, though Acute Misfortune is not a film about repeating the conclusions of the book on which it is based.

“The film questions those conclusions, reframes them, situates the biography itself as a product of the relationship and not – as the lining of the book says – a story told without judgement.”

The film features AACTA award winner Daniel Henshall (Snowtown, Babadook) as Adam Cullen and Toby Wallace (Romper Stomper, The Turning) as Erik Jensen. The supporting cast includes Genevieve Lemon (Sweetie, Top of the Lake), Gillian Jones (The Rover) and Max Cullen (Sunday Too Far Away), portraying his own cousin, Adam’s father, Kevin Cullen.

Filmed in late 2017 and early 2018, over seven weeks, on a budget of under 1.4 million dollars, Acute Misfortune was produced by Arenamedia, Plot Media and Blackheath Film with major production investment and development support from Screen Australia, in association with Melbourne International Film Festival Premiere Fund, Film Victoria and Create NSW.

The world premiere screening of Acute Misfortune takes place on Saturday 4 August as part of the 2018 Melbourne International Film Festival. For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Daniel Henshall and Toby Wallace star in Acute Misfortune (supplied)