Classifications Under Fire

  The Australian Classification Board has been criticised by actor and director, James Franco, as well as gay rights activists because they did not allow a “sexually explicit” film to be shown at film festivals.

   Franco posted a video on YouTube criticising the Board for their decision regarding the film I Want Your Love, directed by Los Angeles director, Travis Matthews. He insisted that the Board has double-standards for classification of sex and violence.

   The film follows the final night of a gay man’s life before he moves from San Francisco back to his hometown and includes several explicit sex scenes.

    Franco and Matthews previously co-directed the film Interior. Leather Bar, which screened at the Sundance film festival to great acclaim, with Franco insisting that he decided he wanted to work with Matthews after seeing I Want Your Love.

   Online newspaper, Crikey, reported that I Want Your Love was Refused Classification, with one of its columnists criticising the Board’s decision.

 After Tharunka contacted the Classification Board to find out why the film was refused classification, they replied, I Want Your Love has not been Refused Classification. It has not been classified.”

   This means film festivals which had planned to show the film were required to apply for an exemption from the Board. The Director of the Board, Lesley O’Brien, commented that the film was unlikely to be exempted and shown at the festivals, as it was probably to be given an X18+ classification, making it ineligible.

   “In this case, the film contains detailed and prolonged scenes of actual explicit sexual activity, such that it is likely to fall within the parameters of the X 18+ category,” she  stated.

   The X18+ classification means that it is illegal to import, distribute, screen or view the film in Australia, although this may not stop many from downloading the film off the internet. These films are only available for hire in the Northern Territory or the ACT.

   The film was refused exemption and the festivals which were to show the film scheduled others on that night. The website of Queer Screen, Sydney’s Mardi Gras film festival, posted the note “SCREENING CANCELLED DUE TO CLASSIFICATION RULING.”

   In his video posted on YouTube, Franco describes this decision as “embarrassing” for Australia and hypocritical, saying, “I don’t think we’d be having this conversation if he’d made a very violent film.”

   “Because films have been banned because of sex, sex in films hasn’t had a chance to grow and become a sophisticated storytelling device, and, frankly, adults should be able to choose.”

   Professor Bruce Molloy from Bond University in Queensland specialises in Film Studies and was previously on the Board of the Gold Coast Film Festival for several years. He has said that the Classification Board “works fine in most respects, apart from the fact … they’re more rigorous in their condemnation of films about sexual matters than they are about films about violence.”

   In regards to sex in films, he said as long as they “aren’t being shown to people underage and provided that it is well publicised that the films may have content which people will find confronting or offensive”, they should be granted exemption. Unless if they are “excessively violent or excessively perverse in their depicting sexual content”.

   Recently, the Board allowed the movie Donkey Love to be shown in Australian underground festivals, not even asking for a copy of the film to classify, resulting in criticism and accusations of double-standards from the Board’s critics. The Colombian feature-length film explores sexual relationships between men and their donkeys and contains explicit scenes of bestiality.

    Although the Board is not sent a copy of every film shown at festivals, it receives a synopsis of each film to be screened and can request any film to watch and decide on its classification.

 

   Some of those opposed to the banning of I Want Your Love have used this decision to criticise the Board.

   Professor Molloy believes that, despite the classification guidelines, “film festivals should be excused from normal classification simply because they are specialist audiences and people should know what to expect.

   “I don’t think film festivals should be subjected to the same classification and legal processes intended for public exhibition, as long as they are not shown to those who are underage and audiences are informed.”

   Despite the Board’s decision, I Want Your Love was previously screened in other queer film festivals all over the world, with no other governments raising concerns about its content. The Vancouver Queer Film Festival screened the film in August and the Queer film festival in Stockholm in May. Included in the list of places it has been screened in are Tel Aviv, London, Bologna and Milan, as well as all over America in the past year, to pick a few.

   It enjoyed success and a good reception at the majority of festivals, and Matthews has now entered into a deal with the company NakedSword, a website which has previously specialised in distribution of gay porn.

   The site will distribute the film to audiences worldwide from their website. It is the first non-porn film which the company has ever distributed.

    President and CEO of NakedSword, Tim Valenti, also came out against the decision in his column on the Huffington Post website, calling I Want Your Love a “tremendous film, part meditation on gay identity, part love letter to San Francisco.”

   He thinks that it “offers the way forward for gay film” and that video-on-demand services could be beneficial to the future of gay filmmaking.

   He, like Franco, thinks that the banning of this film is preventing independent and gay filmmaking from moving forward.

   One member of the public set up a petition on change.org to challenge and attempt to reverse the decision. Others have commented on news websites and blogs that they oppose the decision, with the majority of comments on these sites in favour of the film.

   This is not the first time the Classification Board has come under fire from the public for a decision regarding a film, television show or game. The game The Walking Dead was given an MA15+  rating, due to its lack of offensive language, but fans later found the presence of such language during the game with gaming site Kotaku pointing out the Board’s flawed decision.

Elena Assargiotis

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