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SPCS Appeals Passion of Christ R16 Classification

SPCS appeals against R16 Classification Decision on "The Passion of the Christ"

The Society applied on Friday 20 February to the Secretary of Internal Affairs under section 47(2)(e) of the Films, Videos and Publications Act 1993 (“the Act”) to be granted leave to appeal to the Film and Literature Board of Review (“the Board”), against the classification decision issued by the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), with respect to the film “The Passion of Christ”, directed by Mel Gibson.

The OFLC headed by Chief Censor of Film and Literature, Mr Bill Hastings, issued its classification decision under s. 23 of the Act on Friday, the 20th of February. It received the publication for classification from the Film and Video Labelling Body on the 15th of February and it is to be released in cinemas world-wide on Wednesday 25th February. The 4-page OFLC classification [Ref. No. 400212] states:

“Objectionable except if the availability of the publication is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 16 years”. [R16] The descriptive note (or censor's warning note) states: “Brutal violence, torture and cruelty”.

The Society is seeking for the Board to reclassify the film as “R” for theatrical release: “Restricted to persons 16 years and over unless accompanied by a parent of guardian”. It points out that the Australian OFLC classified it MA15+ which “restricts exhibition of the film to audiences aged 15 years and older. To gain admission to the film, audience members younger than 15 must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.” The decision carries the consumer advice, “Graphic violence”. In USA the film has been restricted to those 17 years of age and older and those younger than 17 can attend if accompanied by a parent or guardian.

The Chief Censor signalled in a NewstalkZB interview with Leighton Smith on 17 February 2004 that his Office was intending to put the film off limits to all children under the age of 16 years of age. In answer to a question posed by Smith, he agreed that his Office has the power to issue a classification that would allow those under 16 years of age to attend the film if, and only if, accompanied by an adult or guardian. Section 23(2)( c) of the Act provides scope for the Board or the OFLC to allow a publication restricted in terms of the viewer’s age, to be made available to those under the specified age, if it is “restricted to specified classes of persons” and/or “used for one or more specified purposes.”

The Society believes that parents and guardians are more than capable of making informed decisions about the suitability of children under the age of 16 years attending this film. They all have prior warning of the violent aspects to the storyline and depictions via the film's descriptive note.

The Society believes that the story of the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus and His subsequent Resurrection is of such a high level of significance, historically, culturally, socially and spiritually, that many teenagers at high school aged 13-15 would want to see this film and would greatly benefit from seeing it. The context of the Easter Passion is well known to most NZ young persons as it is central to our country's Judeo-Christian heritage. These events as depicted undoubtedly form the most significant and influential story to have influenced and shaped Western culture.

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