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New Zealand Film Festivals Update

New Zealand Film Festivals Update

Hello, Friends of the Festival,

I am writing to update all who shared our alarm at the censorship issues which earlier this year disrupted the Incredible Film Festival and posed a serious threat to the 2002 New Zealand International Film Festivals.

You will recall that David Lane of the self-styled Society for the Promotion of Community Standards demanded reviews of the Classification Office decisions relating to the films Y tu mama tambien and The Piano Teacher. His appeals were granted by the Secretary for Internal Affairs.

He then applied for injunctions to prevent the films from being screened until such time as the appeals could be heard. Earlier in the year such injunctions had been granted by the president of the Board of Review with respect to the films Baise moi, Bully and Visitor Q, forcing cancellation of the screenings scheduled by the Incredible Film Festival.

We were faced with the prospect of similar cancellations. Hours before our Auckland opening night screenings we learnt, to our great relief, that the requests for injunctions had been denied. The appeals were scheduled to be heard last week.

Now, just days before the Film and Literature Board of Review was due to meet to consider his case against Y tu mama tambien and The Piano Teacher, Mr. Lane has withdrawn his appeals.

No explanation has been provided but this retreat follows the earlier announcement by the Board of Review that the Society's appeals relating to Baise moi and Visitor Q had effectively failed. In the case of Baise moi the Board's classification is considerably less restrictive than that originally granted by the Classification Office. (The film will now receive a much wider release than would have been the case had the Society not appealed. Wider too than it probably deserves.)

Before withdrawing his appeals, Mr Lane had presented his written submission to the Board of Review. This submission clings to the Society's bizarre "neither confirm nor deny" policy regarding whether or not their case is based on viewing the films that worry them.

This policy bespeaks a telling reluctance to engage with substantial questions of what might actually constitute a danger to the public good. In like vein, Lane offers the Board advice that excisions might lessen the supposedly injurious effect of both Y tu mama tambien and The Piano Teacher. He makes no suggestion as to where, let alone why, such excisions might be made.

The Society's role, we are informed in the same submission, is to highlight the injurious nature of certain films. The Society does not consider that this is a role that can be left to a professional office of highly qualified and experienced public servants. Mr Lane denies the Classification Office's competence in one of the most fundamental skills of their profession, namely assessing the "dominant effect" of the publications submitted to them. (He has provided some helpful examples of how to go about this.)

He further declares that as director of the Festival, I "knowingly took the risk" that the Society might obtain injunctions to prevent the screenings of several key films on this year's programme. The implication is that the Festival should consider the Society a legitimate censorship authority and either refrain from programming any film likely to arouse their suspicions; or allow for the appeal process when submitting films that Mr Lane (not to forget his "executive") might not like the sound of. (With Baise moi it's taken the better part of two years.)

To us this is clearly preposterous, but it is a view that has been upheld by the Minister in his letter to us of May 23; and by the Secretary for Internal Affairs in automatically allowing the Society every appeal they have demanded - and subsequently lost. (We hate to think how much this farce has cost the country.) The Secretary needs only to be persuaded that an appeal from an interested party, such as the Society, is not "vexatious or frivolous" to allow it.

To Festivals - and presumably to the Classification Office as well - Lane's appeals have been vexatious in the extreme, but that, we are told, is our problem, not the law's. Given the failure of every appeal to date - along with Mr Lane's complete failure to front up with any substantial arguments relating to Y tu mama tambien and The Piano Teacher - we will seek assurances that any future applications from Mr Lane might now be seen by the Secretary to be every bit as trumped up or "frivolous" as we always knew them to be.

Failing that we will urge an amendment in the law to set a much higher standard of test for any "interested party" wishing to challenge the Classification Office's decisions. If it seems necessary to go this extent you can be sure we'll be seeking the support of Festival-goers.

Who would have thought the director of a Film Festival would be staking such a claim for the credibility of the Classification Office? But then, as we see it, we are also paying the Classification Office to protect filmmakers, distributors, exhibitors and audiences from the interference of wannabe censors.

With best wishes
Bill Gosden Director
New Zealand Film Festival Trust

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