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Big News: David Lane V Ant Timpson

Big News with Dave Crampton

David Lane V Ant Timpson: The Censorship Fight Continues

The Becks Incredible Film Festival, formerly the Incredibly Strange Film Festival, used to be about bringing off-beat, niche market films into the country for limited screenings. These days the “strange” tag is missing but the festival now has a reputation for seeing how many R-rated films can be imported into the country (by Ant Timpson) and passed by the chief censor before the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards ( David Lane) complains and slaps injunctions on the films prior to screening. “Incredible” could well indicate the fact that some of the screened films have passed the censors without later SPCS intervention.

The top five attractions have now been cut down to the hot three after Baise Moi, Bully –along with Visitor Q - were banned from the festival after complaints from the SPCS. Mr Timpson was adamant last week that Bully was going to be shown irrespective of whether it was to be banned.

“Bully is going to continue to play to adult New Zealanders whether the injunction happens or not," he said.

But he’s not playing it now. He’s angry and feels like he has been the victim of SPCS bullying. Mr Lane considers the festival organisers are doing their own bullying by stretching the limits of censorship and has called Mr Timpson “infantile and irresponsible”. Mr Timpson responded by calling Mr Lane a hyprocrite, a bully and a total fraud. Yeah, he’s really pissed off. Maybe they should fight each other in the boxing ring for youth suicide – and film it to screen at the next festival.

The whole fight really kicked in when a district court judge slapped an injunction on French film Baise Moi after an SPCS complaint. Lawyer and journalist Stephen Price has argued that it was not “manifestly unreasonable” for a district court judge to temporarily ban Baise Moi pending a further court hearing. After all, Price noted, Australia rated it R18. But he didn’t say the film was banned in Australia. He couldn’t as that Aussie decision was made after his column went to print.

The courts can stop screenings where it is in the public interest to do so. However, they must take into account the Bill of Rights, addressing the importance of free speech. So do the censors, don’t they? It’s just that at the moment the censors and the board of review are decisive about their classifications, although coming to different conclusions. Creating a temporary injunction, as the courts has done with Baise Moi, is one way of stopping films being screened until making that final decision on whether to ban or allow screening, thus taking into account the Bill of Rights. It is just unfortunate for festival organisers that the injunction was taken out immediately prior to the festival.

It remains to be seen what the court will do next week when the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards heads back to see what the temporary injunction of Baise Moi will turn into. If it is not banned, Mr Timpson may well consider taking legal action to recover costs of the banned film. Had the films been classified much earlier, the subsequent legal action could have been completed and the films either screened at the festival or edited out of the final programme. But it is the practise of festival directors to promote films immediately after the classification and before any possible subsequent appeals. It is also a risk that Mr Timpson was willing to take and in four cases it has backfired, although Bully was shown in Auckland. There is a loophole in the legislation and this aspect needs to be looked at.

Mind you, Ant Timpson has a point when he says that any film passed by the Government- appointed chief censor should be able to be shown. But he has as much of a point as a person convicted of a crime in the High Court who wants to appeal that sentence - in effect, an injunction - in the Court of Appeal.

If dodgy films are to be brought into the country only to have their initial classification revisited and an injunction placed on the film throughout the
festival period, it makes it pretty difficult to run a successful festival. Surely it would be easier on everybody if dodgy films in festivals were classified and all appeals heard before the festival book is taken to the printers.

If films continue to be banned and then screened at a later date, the publicity will ensure that people will go to see the film for the wrong reasons. These reasons have more to do with finding out what the fuss is about as opposed to viewing for entertainment or artistic merit.

Then again how artistic or entertaining is Baise Moi, Bully or Visitor Q anyway? Ask those who were handed it out in Wellington by a free speech crowd last week – they should have seen it by now.

- Dave Crampton is a Wellington-based freelance journalist. He can be contacted at davec@globe.net.nz

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