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Film Fest “Lies” and Defending Coprophagia

Mr Bill Gosden, Film Fest “Lies” and Defending Coprophagia on Screen

Mr Bill Gosden, Director of the New Zealand Film Festival Trust (“the Trust”), who appeared before the eight member Film and Literature Board of Review (“the Board”) representing the Trust, failed in his bid to overturn the Office and Film and Literature Classification’s decision on the Korean sex-violence film “Lies” that features coprophagia, coprophilia and degrading sado-masochistc behaviour. The Classification Office (OFLC) classified it “objectionable” with the descriptive note “Contains sex scenes and sexual content that may offend” (OFLC Ref. No. 100914) and required an excision to be made before it could be screened with an R18 classification and warning notice, at the NZ Film Festival (“The Festival”). The Board was required to make an independent determination on the classification, without reference to the OFLC’s decision. Like the OFLC, it required one excision and ruled that the uncut version of the film should be classified “objectionable”.

The Trust, which screened the cut version of the film at an earlier Festival, protested the “recommended excision” and applied to the Board for a review of the publication’s classification under s.47(2) of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 (“the Act”), the same provision in the Act that has enabled the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards (“the Society”) to successfully seek reviews of restricted film classifications (following the registration of classification decisions by the OFLC in its List of [monthly] Decisions). However, the Trust, unlike the Society which needs to first seek the “leave” of the Secretary of Internal Affairs under s.47(2)(e) before lodging its application for review to the Board; does not need to seek “leave” in making its application to the Board under s.47(2)(d).

The Society’s president, Mr Mike Petrus says “the Society is delighted that Mr Gosden’s obsessive and deplorable efforts to secure coprophagic and coprophilic film content for his festival’s audiences has failed and it is appalling that the Trust’s campaign against the original classification of the film as “objectionable” has taken the Board almost three years to resolve. The Society has obtained all the documentation on this protracted censorship case from the Department of Internal Affairs using the Official Information Act.”

The material Mr Bill Gosden argued before the Board should NOT have been cut from “Lies” was found by the OFLC to fall within s. 3(2)(d) of the Act, activities depicted involving “The use of urine or excrement in association with degrading or dehumanising conduct or sexual conduct.” The Act defines such depictions as “injurious to the public good” where the publication “promotes or supports, or tends to promote or support” them, and a publication containing such material must be deemed “objectionable” under s.3(2) by the censorship authority.

The OFLC decision made the following findings under s3(2)(d) [Contents may offend]:

“In one scene J refers to the taste of excrement and he is depicted penetrating Y’s anus with his fingers and smelling and licking them. This scene is brief and the use of excrement in association with sexual conduct is unclear. However the film also includes another scene of about two minutes duration that depicts the implied use of excrement in association with sexual conduct. In this scene J is angry with Y for fellating another man. He engages her in implied anal intercourse. She says “Stop I need to go” and tells her to hold it in. He then instructs her to suck his penis and not swallow the faeces on it. They then kiss with a substance presented as faeces exchanged between their mouths. In the immediately following scene they both discuss eating excrement in an enthusiastic manner. Y tells J that ‘tasting my sh*t made my heart beat so fast. Now I know you really love me. No-one else would eat my sh*t’ ”…..

“Coprophilia is exhibited as a degrading but pleasurable erotic practice. The protagonists use the excrement to further their sexual arousal and their relationship, and the portrayal of this is frank and clear. The depiction is shown in the same detailed manner that characterises the other numerous scenes of sexual activity. The scene that immediately follows consists of dialogue about how exciting and symbolic the use of excrement was for the two characters. No view is expressed or implied within the film that contradicts this. By presenting these two scenes in this manner the publication tends to support the use of excrement in association with sexual conduct, by upholding it as an erotic practice and giving strength to it.

“The film contains degrading and demeaning sexual conduct of varying degrees. Scenes that depict the use of excrement in association with sexual content are discussed above. In this scene and in others the characters degrade and demean each other frequently in the context of sexual role-playing … Y [the woman, is] depicted and present[ed] as a collection of orifices to be penetrated for sexual gratification of men”.

The Trust’s representative, Mr Bill Gosden, vigorously defended the depictions identified under s. 3(2)(d), objecting to the one cut required by the OFLC. The Board summarised the Trust’s assertions relating to s. 3(2)(d) of the Act, found in its written submission to the Board dated 2 May 2002, as follows [Note contents may offend]:

[9] “Lies” is described as a provocatively dirty film…

[10] The film is designed to cause outrage in Korea…

[13] It is denied that when the man asks the woman to suck his penis he seeks to humiliate her. The act is described as “essentially consensual, a matter of mutual exploration and trust”. Neither individual is intent on degrading the other. The experience of tasting excrement is very much a shared one. A voice-over analysing the flavour of the excrement in the manner of a restaurant critic underlines the absurdity and decadence of their activity.

[14] The couple’s discussion of their coprophagia does not promote the activity.

[15] Viewers of the film in its uncut form have greeted the coprophilia with “rowdy revulsion, with amusement or with indignation at the director’s nose for offence, or with a combination of all three responses.”

[16] “… The comic aspect of the entire affair may not be seen at its most apparent in the context of censorship screenings, but was not lost on the audiences at the Auckland Film Festival screenings of the cut film.

[17] S3(2)(f) constitutes “a trivial but absurdly prurient and uncalled for restriction on freedom of speech, one which we had always assumed existed to testify to the legislature’s concerns relating to pornography….

[18] The film maker has a right to depict characters who say they enjoy eating excrement. The Classification Office cut has deprived New Zealand Film Festival audiences of the chance to experience the full measure of Jang Sun-Woo’s [the film director’s] satiric view of social disaffection.”

[Quoted from “Decision No. One” of the Board dated 20 September 2002]

The Board rejected the Trust’s case put forward by Mr Bill Gosden and ruled:

[32] The Board unanimously holds the film/video “Lies” to be objectionable unless one excision is made in accordance with s32 of the Act….

[33] The excision required is to remove the sequence which shows the main characters using excrement in association with sexual conduct. The excision is to remove the part of the scene where the man requests the woman to suck his penis with excrement on it. The couple kiss and appear to exchange excrement between their mouths. They are then seen on a train and discuss their experience of coprophilia enthusiastically.

[34] The excision is to commence from 1:21:07 (hours, minutes, seconds) after the man stands up and before he says “suck it” and ends at 1:22:42 (hours, minutes, seconds) after the woman says “no-one else will eat my shit” and the couple is depicted kissing.

[43] The Board is of the view however, that the scene involving excrement is “in association with … sexual conduct” in that the woman is asked to suck the faeces off the man’s penis and the faeces are then apparently passed between their mouths in a kiss.

[45] The part of the scene which the Board believes shows promotion or support of excrement in relation to sexual activity is two-fold. Firstly while the couple are involved in the coprophagic act the man groans with pleasure, an indication of promotion or support for the act. The voice over then says “sh*t is disgusting because it has no taste …” but the body language of the parties shows prolonged and enthusiastic participation in coprophagia. Secondly the couple’s discussion on the train

As the Board report notes: “Lies” is a feature film from South Korea… The film is about a relationship between “J” a 38 year-old married man and “Y”, a woman twenty years younger… Their first encounters involve oral, vaginal, and anal sex, but before long, Y and J start to experiment with various sadomasochistic practices. The film was submitted for classification to the OFLC in July 2001 by the Trust. It appealed the OFLC classification to take a one minute forty five second excision from the film/video “Lies” by applying for a review of the classification to the Board. However, the film was screened at the 2001 Auckland International Film Festival with the cut and with the producer’s consent, with provisions that:

The audience were advised of the excision and the extent of the excised material. That this appeal be proceeded with and That audiences be advised that the appeal was proceeding.

Eight members of the Board met in Wellington at the Department of Internal Affairs on 4 July 2002 and 18 July 2002 to view the film, consider the review and hear Mr Bill Gosden’s expert testimony on matters involving the film depictions of coprophilia and coprophagia. He helpfully explained the differences between the two activities to the Board members.

The Board ruled against Mr Bill Gosden and the Trust’s appeal for a different classification that would reinstate the material requiring excision.

Pursuant to s. 33 of the Act the Board notified the distributor of “Lies” and the Trust as its New Zealand Agent, of the classification that would be given to the film if the excision was made (i.e. revised to “R18”) and secondly the classification if the excision was not made (retained as “objectionable”). The Trust was given 20 working days from 20 September 2001 to respond to the Board with its decision regarding the excision. The Trust by way of a letter dated 14 October 2002 requested an extension of time of 60 days to allow it to consult appropriately with the Australian Rights Holder of the film, who in turn were obligated to consult with the French Sales Agent, who had to advise the Director in Korea. On 18 October 2002 the Board issued “Decision No.Two” granting the Trust an extension of 60 days commencing on that date to comply with s. 33 of the Act

Mr Bill Gosden wrote to the Board secretary on January 31, 2003 stating:

Dear M Davie,

I am writing to advise that the New Zealand Film Festival Trust does not accept the Film and Literature Board of Review excision notice relating to the film “Lies” dated 20th September 2001.

We understand that by not accepting the cuts, the Board will classify the whole publication objectionable.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions regarding our decision.

Yours sincerely

Bill Gosden, Director [2003 New Zealand International Film Festivals]

Having received the Trust’s decision, communicated by Mr Bill Gosden, the Board issued its fourth decision dated 24 March 2004 with its concise conclusion:

[16] The Board finds the film “Lies” to be objectionable in its current uncut form.

In other words the Board banned the film/video in its uncut form.

In a recent vitriolic public outburst against the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards Inc, Mr Bill Gosden stated:

“I am at a complete loss to understand why the Secretary for Internal Affairs continues to allow these appeals [made by the Society] to go ahead. In my opinion the so-called Society abuses the facility that the law provides for citizens to question censorship classifications. It’s beginning to look to me like a bizarre personal campaign by the Society’s one high-profile member to declare his moral superiority to the film censor – and to the organisers of film festivals. And it’s costing the country a bundle in legal work….” [http://www.nzff.telecom.co.nz]

Normal members of the public must be at a complete loss to understand why a high profile film festival trust director would waste so much public money and time seeking to defend before the eight member Board the public screening of material that promotes and supports offensive sexual acts involving human excrement. It is not surprising that such efforts would prove a dismal failure – the uncut film was banned.

The Society has been granted “leave” by the Secretary to have film classifications reviewed because it has established to the Secretary’s satisfaction that a prima facie case exists for the reviews and that the applications are neither “vexatious” nor “frivolous”. It is perfectly entitled under the Act to apply for reviews as a public “watchdog” group that genuinely and sincerely believes that the publication has not been classified correctly and its dissemination to the public would be “injurious to the public good”. The clear intention of Parliament as embodied in s.47(2)(d) of the Act, is to give a “right of review” to “the owner, maker, publisher, or authorised distributor of the publication” as well as to any person who is granted “leave” by the Secretary of Internal Affairs under s. 47(2)(e).

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