Events / Movies

DIFF Opening Film Ban: SA Censorship Run Wild

By P Blood | Images: Russell Grant

Opening films for the Durban International Film Festival are momentous in themselves. Media from all quarters, South Africa’s film industry heavy weights, international guests of the festival including big-name directors and producers, as well as some of 2013’s villains, a cabal of politicians, bureaucrats, and officials linked in some way to the arts and film industry and representatives of NFVF are all there. Including an entirely out of place, but weirdly afforded access to these things, me.

I think most people never think to themselves that they will, by pure coincidence and mostly stupid luck as is in my case, ever witness a historical moment. That is exactly what happened though. In the moment, while these events that you are struggling to take in and place in context are going on in front of your eyes, a tingle travels up the back of your spine sending hair on end, electrifies the back of your brain, casting a light on the solitary, prevailing thought that your stunned mind can manage, “Holy Fuck!”. Of course this is all useless information to you, but should illustrate the magnitude of the events that took place instead of Of Good Report.

The night was going as it was meant to. All the above mentioned attendees arrived, picking up complementary popcorn and Coca-Cola and taking their seats. The speeches began, the usual welcomes and thank yous were dispensed, praise was lauded on those seen as fit for praising, and then we sat back and prepared ourselves for the main event. The theatre went black, the screen lit up, but instead of the usual studio logos, we got this…

Luca Barausse DIFF2013 (3 of 3)

Initial reactions were laughter. Most people thought it a publicity stunt. A joke, a cheeky move by the filmmakers to drum up excitement around what was already expected to be a hard-hitting dose of reality – what young teenage girls’ in the impoverished South African townships go through. The screen didn’t change and the laughter died. The film wasn’t starting. If this was a joke, it wasn’t funny anymore. The audience grew restless, the low murmuring spread as the confusion settled in. The lights came up, and Peter Machen took to the stage with the expression of a man stepping in front of a waiting firing squad ordered to fire at will if the news he bore was ill…

The opening film is usually the film that sets the bar for the crop of South African films to be shown. It is an indicator of the health of South Africa’s film industry. Basically, it’s a big fucking deal to everyone and anyone even remotely interested in these kinds of things. So the events that unfolded, the proverbial shit storm that hit with the force of a freak El Niño attack sent the entire two theatres into outrage…

Machen explained that the film had been banned by the Film and Publications Board for allegedly containing child pornography… The scene in question, according to sources on the DIFF Committee that chose the film to be a part and open this year’s festival, emphatically stated that the film in no way could be considered as kiddie porn and basically some dirty old man got 27 minutes into the film – that is literally the time when they said they had seen enough – got a boner and decided it was not suitable for the rest of South Africa to see. The only other possible reason is that the subject matter, young woman engaging in sexual relationships with much older men, “the sugar daddy culture” – to quote a colleague – that is rife in our country, was a little too close to home for some fat-cat bureaucrat somewhere.

The implications of this in our country, where freedom of speech and access to information have been under real and dangerous attack from politicians, and this move by the Film and Publication Board may be the hands of censorship wrapping around our throats and tightening its grip around the neck of artists, film makers, writers, whistle blowers and eventually citizens across the country.

In his bold move to make a statement about the film being banned, I witnessed a stand against outrageous censorship, a show of solidarity between the newly appointed, first-time, Head of Durban International Film Festival Peter Machen and all involved in the making Of Good Report. From the speeches given in place of the film from cast and crew, the overarching feeling is hurt and anger at having the film, their collective art, squashed by government in such a callous manner – which was perfectly demonstrated by the film’s director, Jahmil XT Qubeka, when he took to the stage after Machen’s speech with duct tape over his mouth and he proceeded to tear up his ID book.

DIFFOpening-1599

Read first-hand coverage of this event on Durban is Yours, and look through more images from the festival’s official photographer, Russell Grant, on his Tumblr.

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