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Classif. Options Open for Passion of the Christ

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Friday 27 February 2004

Classification Options Open for The Passion of the Christ

The Society for the Promotion of Community Standards (Inc.) disputes Chief Censor Mr Bill Hasting’s inflexible views expressed on radio that “no child” – defined by him as those “under 16 years of age” - should ever be allowed “within a mile” of the film “The Passion of the Christ”, due to its “gratuitous” and “unrelenting violence”.

He appears inconsistent, as the NZPA reports him as saying that “classrooms’ applications for an exemption to show the film to under-16s for educational purposes would be considered [by him] if parental consent was given” (Dominion Post 25 Feb). You have to laugh at the exquisite irony of the situation. A “resolute” Mr Hastings is reported by NZPA as saying “the rating would not be lowered” after declaring on radio that no “child” should be allowed near it. Then he states that he would consider exceptions for “educational purposes … if parental consent was given”. But this is exactly what the Society wants, except that it considers parents are better endowed to make this judgement than Mr Hastings (his Office charges a $100 non-refundable fee for applications lodged). Section 44 of the Act does empower him to grant such exemptions for those under 16. However, the Society argues that if the film was re-classified “R” then year 11 students could view the film at a theatre with parental support.

The Society is seeking a “R” classification for the 35 mm film “The Passion of the Christ” which would restrict its theatrical release to those 16 years of age and older, but allow those younger than this age to attend if accompanied by parent or guardian. There is ample precedent for this. Perhaps the best known example of this is the video VHS/PAL recording of the 35 mm film “Once Were Warriors”. The Information Unit of the Office of Film and Literature Classification, in response to an official information request from the Society, has provided evidence that a total of 43 publications (films, videos and DVDs) have received this precise classification ("R") since the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993 came into force in 1994. Two of these had the additional restriction requiring the screening of the film to be limited to the NZ Film Festival.

The Classification Office has also confirmed that an additional six publications (5 DVDs and one video) have received the “R” classification with the audience age restriction set at 13 years or over, with the provision that those children younger than 13 years can view the publications if accompanied by a parent or guardian.

The Society concludes that Chief Censor Mr Hastings had more than ample precedent to grant a “R” restricted classification to the film “The Passion”, in line with the more lenient Australian and US classification decisions. Reasonable people accept the need for censorship. The key questions are what needs to be censored and for whom. A temptation open to the Society’s role as “watchdog” is that of a “knee-jerk” reaction to controversial content without proper consideration to context and intent of the film-maker. However, in the case of The Passion of the Christ, the irony is that the Chief Censor appears to have fallen headlong into this very trap. It may well be regarded one day as one of the great films of the 21st Century and Mr Hastings as the agent of a myopic religious intolerance and an opponent of freedom of expression of the spirit


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