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Film Archive: Content May Offend Season

Film Archive: Content May Offend

On Wednesday nights in October the Film Archive presents CONTENT MAY OFFEND a series of New Zealand Features notorious for the censorship controversies they caused.

Films first screened In New Zealand in 1896 to great public enthusiasm. Almost immediately community groups responded with calls for censorship, believing the new medium encouraged crime, antisocial behaviour and sexual impropriety. It was not until 1916 however, that a system of censorship was formerly established when the Cinematographic-Films Censorship Act was passed.

Along with the act came the position of Chief Censor. Charged with protecting the public mind the Censor had wide discretionary powers and could reject any film that, in his opinion, depicted any matter ‘undesirable’ in the public interest. While most films, and there have been many, that have created controversy at the Censor’s Office have been produced overseas, there have been a number of New Zealand films that have been held up by the Censor.

The Te Kooti Trail (1927) caused our first home-grown censorship controversy when, ‘believing it could offend Maori sensibilities’, the Censor WA Tanner, delayed classifying the film until officials from the Ringatu Church could attend. After the preview two intertitles were changed and the film was released.

With few exceptions distributors have been fast to recognise the added box-office value a public censorship controversy creates. The Te Kooti Trail Producer/director, Rudall Hayward cashed in by creating a furore in local newspapers. His dramatic publicity read “Stopped by the NZ Film Censor Because of its Amazing Heroic Realism – then Released Because It Proved to Be the Truth.” Undoubtedly, the media coverage had an impact at the box office and The Te Kooti Trail did better than it might have otherwise.

Since The Te Kooti Trail only four New Zealand films have had serious ratings issues. The first two, Angel Mine (1978) and Squeeze (1980) met with the ire of Patricia Bartlett and the Society For the Promotion of Community Standards. While the society was unsuccessful in having either film banned, they did have some effect.

"Absolute rubbish, diabolical, crude, coarse and revolting...a jumble of a story" - Patricia Bartlett on Angel Mine, source unknown

Angel Mine was released with the most unique Censor’s note, ‘R18-Contains Punk Cult Material’, (except perhaps the 1967 ruling that Ulysses could only be screened to sexually segregated audiences!)

An organised campaign then successfully prevented Squeeze from obtaining funding from the newly established Film Commission. The Society also persuaded the Government to add a new clause to the Commission’s legislation, requiring it to take account of ‘public decency’ in any future funding decisions (this legislative requirement stills stands).

Once Were Warriors (1994) created opposition because of its violent subject matter. Released in 1994 with an R13 certificate it was an immediate success with an estimated one in three New Zealanders seeing the film. Since video release, and with new legislation in place, Once Were Warriors has carried the classification R-Contains Graphic Violence. The full legal classification is ‘objectionable except if the availability of the publication is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 16 years, or who are accompanied by a parent or guardian’. Interestingly, the film has shown on television, sans cuts.

Most recently Savage Honeymoon caused an outcry when it was rated R18 because of what was deemed, ‘anti-social behaviour’, including conspicuous and substantial consumption of alcohol. Marketed as a family comedy, the rating was appealed and changed to R15 with the note ‘Contains irresponsible behaviour associated with alcohol’.

Throughout October the Archive will screen Angel Mine, Squeeze, Once Were Warriors and Savage Honeymoon in its regular New Zealand Feature slot. You might be offended, you might join a cult, you might need a drink– but you were warned!


Angel Mine, R18 Contains Punk/Cult Material 6.30pm Wednesday 4 October

Squeeze, R18 6.30pm Wednesday 11 October

Once Were Warriors, R Contains Graphic Violence 6.30pm Wednesday 18 October

Savage Honeymoon, R15 Contains irresponsible behaviour associated with alcohol 6.30pm Wednesday 25 October


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