Earlier this year, a local video distributor seeking to release Ken Park (Larry Clark & Ed Lachman, 2002) for sale and hire throughout Australia submitted the film for classification to the Office of Film & Literature Classification (OFLC). On 22 May 2003, the OFLC classified Ken Park RC (Refused Classification), meaning the film could not be legally sold, hired, advertised or exhibited throughout Australia. According to the Classification Board,
…this film deals with matters of sex in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that it should be refused classification (…) the film contains scenes of actual sexual activity involving characters who are portrayed as minors that could not be accommodated within the “R18+”classification. The “R18+” classification permits material that is high in impact. The intensity, cumulative effect, tone and treatment of the scenes of actual sexual activity exceeded this impact test.
Meanwhile, the Sydney Film Festival (SFF) was due to commence in early June, with Ken Park as one of the films in the program. However, the Festival Guidelines, agreed to by State and Territory Censorship Ministers, are such that films which have been classified either X or RC cannot be granted exemption to be shown at a film festival.
An appeal was made by the SFF to the Review Board, an independent review tribunal which meets to hear applications that seek to review decisions made by the OFLC Classification Board. But the Review Board upheld the Classification Board’s decision.
Subsequently, the SFF cancelled its Ken Park screenings.
On Tuesday June 17, the lobby group Watch on Censorship (WOC) and the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA) presented a forum on censorship at the SFF. Panellists included co-director of Ken Park Larry Clark, who spoke via satellite, Margaret Pomeranz representing WOC, Julie Rigg representing FCCA, former Deputy Chief Censor David Haines, chair of the Review Board, Maureen Shelley, SFF Director, Gayle Lake, Chair of the SFF Board, Cathy Robinson, and Festival legal advisor, Ross Tzannes. Journalist and WOC representative David Marr chaired the forum.
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David Marr: Welcome to this afternoon’s grim session. It’s not a surprise that we’re here. We tend to forget that the advocates of censorship never stop, they never admit defeat. Many of them, of course, are on a mission from God. It is absolutely impossible for them to allow themselves to admit defeat. All that happens from time to time is that politicians listen more closely to them, and we’re living in a time when politicians listen closely to these people. And they’re so skilful at morphing into the fears of the community. So, 15 years ago they suddenly became feminists, they were intensely concerned with issues of rape. Now of course they’re the child protection brigade … A number of, I am told, entirely dishonest claims about this film being about child sex and a danger to children have been publicly made in the last weeks, not only by officials but by journalists.
It is now five minutes past one in the morning in New York, and Larry Clark is with us on the line.
Larry, what sort of film is this and what were you trying to say that could cause such distress and grief in people?
Larry Clark: You know I’ve been a visual artist for 40 years and I’ve always been a storyteller and I started out as a documentary photographer and these are stories that I’ve had with me for a long time, that I’ve wanted to tell and I couldn’t document them. The only way to tell these stories would be to make films because I couldn’t be there when these things happened. These are stories about things that happen inside the family, this film is about parents and children, it really is a family film. We go inside and meet the parents, meet the kids, it’s about four families in Visalia, California, a small isolated inland town in California. You know, all the stories are true. This is real life. The characters are all based on people I know, or people that I know about, a couple of the characters are based on friends of mine.
I came up in the ’50s when Eisenhower was President and everything was pretty much repressed in our country and things like this were never talked out, everything was supposed to be mum and apple pie and white picket fences. There wasn’t supposed to be any child abuse, there wasn’t supposed to be any drug abuse in the family. I mean, I went to school, I had friends coming to school with black eyes, their parents beat them up, but no one talked about that. I had friends whose parents were alcoholics and drug addicts but that was never talked about. I knew a girl in the ninth grade with five brothers and all the brothers were having sex with this girl, so probably her father was too but this was never talked about and everybody at school knew about it. And so when I started making work, I think I started wanting to make work about things that weren’t talked out, that I knew were stories about real life, about things that I saw in my life that you really couldn’t talk about.
DM: Is masturbation one of the things you can’t talk about? Maybe can’t talk about still?
LC: Are you talking about something specific in the film? There’s a scene in the film where a character does autoerotic asphyxiation, which is a practice which I found out is fairly common in some other countries and I think a very famous rock star from INXS died in Australia doing this.
That particular scene comes from – and there was a big article in the New York Times about this – an incident that in one town in America, I think it was in Jersey or Long Island, there were five suicides. It was national news. They couldn’t work out why five different kids who didn’t know each other had killed themselves in this one, fairly small town. Then upon investigation they found out that they hadn’t committed suicide, it was accidental death, they were doing this practice, and the parents had found the kids and had cleaned it up, because it was more embarrassing that they had died like that then if they had committed suicide. There was a big article about this. I was doing an artist-in residence at NYU, and I talked to some students about it, thinking it was very esoteric and that no one would know about it, but the kids knew about it. There had been a kid from NYU who had just died from this, so it was known among teenagers.
DM: Is this another example of things that shock parents more then shock children?
LC: I think so. I think that maybe I’m making the films more for the adolescents then the grown-ups, but let me take a second to tell you about the characters in the film. There’s the character of Claude who’s abused by his father, and this character is based on a friend of mine, this is exactly what happened to him when he was a kid. The character of Peaches is based on a friend of mine named Michelle who had parents who were religious fanatics and when she reached puberty and started to become a woman, her father was afraid she was going to go out and sin. She hadn’t done anything at all but her father was convinced she was going to go out and sin so he locked her in the closet, he would preach to her and hit her in the head with the Bible, and so she reacted by crawling out the window at night and having sex with some of the boys in the neighbourhood. There’s another character, Shawn, who is having sex with the older woman in the neighbourhood, actually in the film it’s his girlfriend’s mother. Well, these things happen, I know a lot of people, a lot of teenagers, first have sex with older women. This has been going on for a long time, you know, we shouldn’t be shocked by this.
What’s happening in the film is the kids are getting none of their needs filled by their parents, the adults; at the end of the day, the kids are getting nothing. The adults are using the children in the most inappropriate way to try to fulfil their own emotional emptiness, I think. And so when we’re kids and we’re not getting any of our needs filled by the adults, we only have each other, and I think that’s how we survive, and that’s kind of what the film is about, the film is about that some of us won’t make it but some of us will, the film is kind of about survival. And there’s a scene at the end of the film, which I think is causing the controversy, which works as a kind of uplifting scene, kind of like a redemption, a temporary redemption anyway, a salvation. That was my idea – that in the film these kids would come together. And I think maybe that’s what’s freaking some of these people out.
DM: Larry, how freaked out are people going to be in the United States? I understand that the film is due to go out on general release there? Will it go uncut onto release?
LC: This film will never be cut. I made this film to never be cut. No frame of this film will be ever be cut. If it can’t be shown in some places, well that’s tough, it just can’t be shown. I wanted to make a film that was not only emotionally honest but was visually honest, so this film won’t be cut. It’s either you can see it or you can’t see it.
DM: Are you confident that it will be released therefore in America?
LC: Oh, sure, sure. We’ve shown it in a couple of film festivals. We showed it at the Lincoln Centre in NYC, we were invited to show it there a couple of months ago. You know, these stories are in the newspapers every day, you can read about these things happening but I can’t show ‘em in films. The film’s about families and parents and children, about family secrets. You know we all have to get past our families at some point in our lives.
You know the problem is that I’m a visual artist and here I am having to try to explain, or try to talk about a film and what’s going on in the film and I’m not doing it well, because I can’t really do that, it’s like trying to describe a painting. It’s a pity that you can’t see the film. That’s what’s wrong. You guys should be able to see the film. Everybody there should be able to see the film. You’re all grown-ups. And then you can make your own decision, and we can have a much better discussion.
Audience Member: How bad is this film that got the censorship alert?
LC: There is full-frontal nudity in the film. You can show full-frontal female nudity with no problems at all but if you show full-frontal male nudity, you tend to get in trouble. I’ve shown female nudity in my films before and my girlfriend calls me a sexist. She says why do you always show women naked and you don’t show men naked? And so in this film I said I’m not going to play by those rules. There’s also a sex scene in the film where it looks real, it looks like they’re really having sex and they’re not acting and my job is to make things look real and I can do that…but, well you know, you have to see the film, I can’t really describe it to you, you should be able to see the film.
Audience Member: With your book Tulsa, which came out in 1971, did you get much controversial flak over the images in that book because those images are sort of on a similar theme to the Ken Park controversy?
LC: Well, as I said, I started out as a documentary photographer, and Tulsa was a book about my childhood, my adolescence. I photographed my friends and myself over a nine-year period so it kind of became visual anthropology. But that book was pretty much acclaimed; it was amazing the reaction to that book. I think what you’re saying is that I’ve been working a long time as an artist and Ken Park is a natural, logical progression to my other work. Now I’m telling stories where I can’t destroy the document, where I need to make films to tell. But I’ve been working a long time and everybody who knows my work knows I’m a serious artist and I’m not a pornographer.
You know I was told that if you show certain images, it’s automatically pornography. And I said no it’s not and I’m gonna show you that it’s not. Because you can show anything that happens in life, if it’s done in the context of the story, if it’s not gratuitous and it makes sense, and I had an idea, kind of an art idea that I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. But I pulled it off. This is my best work. This is my best film. It’s a beautiful film. I think this film is a groundbreaking film…
Just indulge me for one more minute. I just went to the Lake Placid Film Festival just as all this stuff was coming out about this film being banned in Australia and I was a little bummed out by this. And I showed the film at Lake Placid and there were a lot of young people in the audience from 18 to 23, some young filmmakers and just some kids who came in to see the film, and after the film was over for the next couple of days I was approached 10 to 15 times by different kids thanking me for the film and saying they were inspired by this film and it made them want to go do work, it made them want to make work…they said thanks to me, you give me such inspiration, they said to me you make me think that anything is possible, thankyou very much. So I know that I’m getting through, I know that if I can break ground and inspire these kids, that’s great. You know, I’m gonna die and probably the people who are trying to ban my films are gonna die, but these kids… I’m gonna live on through these kids and young filmmakers, and just this experience this week, it makes me wanna make more work, it kind of gives it back to me.
Gayle Lake: Just by way of a brief summary, I saw the film at an overseas film festival. It had already premiered in Venice, it had screened at Telluride, Toronto, it was also screening at Rotterdam. I invited the film in March. In May I was informed by the international sales agent that a video distributor had been secured for the film here in Australia. Later that month I was informed that the video distributor had submitted a ‘for sale or hire’ video classification, and the film on that video application was refused classification, which immediately compromised our exemption papers. For those who don’t know, any film festival in Australia must submit all the titles in their program, with a description of the film, to the OFLC, to secure special exemption. That is, bringing the films in unclassified, which is why under 18s are not allowed to attend film festival screenings because technically the films are automatically given an R rating.
In that time, we sought to undertake a legal process. I stand by the decision to program the film; I think it’s a film that should be seen by adult audiences, it is very much the film that Larry Clark describes. We’ve never made any apology for the fact that it will divide the audience, however, it will also encourage a great deal of debate. I think in terms of where we are and our relationship with our younger adults and the people coming through in the next generation, that we really do owe a discussion and debate of how these people are growing up and what kind of people are they going to become. I really think the film has merit and integrity, and yesterday was one of the saddest days of my life.
Ross Tzannes: There’s a terrible sense of deja vu about this whole affair. I go back a long way with the Festival and it was back in ’69 that we had our last major row regarding censorship, over the film, I Love, You Love, after which the concessions were granted by the then minister for customs, Don Chipp, which granted in effect exemption to the Festival and a status where we could show films unclassified. The only inhibitor in all this was the condition that “you are going to act responsibly and if you don’t act responsibly you’ll lose that concession in the future,” which was fair enough because we were always going to act responsibly. Somewhere along the line, in 1996, to my total horror, these guidelines became set in print and one of the guidelines is that the Festival will not be allowed to show films above R classification, in other words if they’re RC they cannot come in within the exemption. If that’s not nonsense, nothing is. What was an exemption has now been reduced to a bureaucratic convenience, with no substance whatsoever.
I mention this because this particular issue today was not fought on the exemption guidelines, it couldn’t be unfortunately because the application was made for a sale by video or hire and the film was refused classification on that basis. It was a vote of 6:1 in the Office – one person thought it could be sold/hired for video.
On appeal, we became very concerned because it meant we couldn’t show it either. Our first attempt was to try and get the Office to agree that it could be argued on the basis of festival exemption, but they wouldn’t buy that and understandably so. They informed us that the only decision that we could argue was whether the film can be sold for sale or hire, so we were forced into the situation of having to argue in effect these distributors case for them.
It went on to a hearing for the Board of Review, it was a very long hearing, several hours, in which there was a 3-person review, and the film was talked about in context, out of context, almost frame by frame, every issue was teased out and at the end of that process I was pleasantly surprised that it actually persuaded 1 of the 3 that the film could be screened not only at the Festival but for sale/hire at home.
No one, even the banners, argued that this film could harm anybody. That’s not been the ground on which the film has been banned. It goes back to community standards. The Act says that adults should be able to see what they want to see, as a general principle.
Interestingly, in the New Zealand decision, the Censorship Board brought in a family counsellor who gave evidence that the film had merit as an educational tool for older teenagers. So the New Zealand Board found the film of high artistic merit and it screened there. So it is with sadness that this film is denied an Australia viewing.
Margaret Pomeranz: I’m one of the other people in this country who has seen Ken Park. It screened at the Venice festival where I was and while it might have caused discussion, there was nothing like the fuss that’s been caused in this country about it! I looked at it and I thought older teenagers would actually benefit from this film, so we’re not even talking about an R rating that’s reasonable, we’re talking about an MA15+.
I’m President of Watch on Censorship and our major concern is that we do believe in the right of adults in this country to see, read and hear what they want, and this has been absolutely ignored and eroded by current governments and it’s of great concern to us. I, like Larry Clark, remember the Eisenhower years. And it wasn’t a good place to be. But there was a flowering and a confidence in this country where we thought we could cope with confronting material and we seem to be moving backwards.
We are very concerned about government interference with the independence of OFLC decisions. We were very under whelmed at Federal parliamentarians calling for a banning of Lolita (Adrian Lyne, 1998) and also very concerned about the Attorney General, Darryl Williams, responding to anonymous requests for a review on the decision of Baise Moi (Virginie Despentes & Coralie Trinh Thi, 2001). This is just spontaneous combustion on the part of our Federal government.
I’m concerned about the independence of film festivals. I only ever saw this issue with Ken Park as the first of the fights about this film. I certainly believe that festival directors ought to be able to program with confidence that they’re able to screen. No one who is appointed director of any major festival in this country is going to pick salacious or reprehensible material for screening to audiences; it’s a responsibility, an artistic responsibility, and you have to have confidence in the directors of the festival. I’m concerned about the appointments to the Classification Review Board; I don’t think that they are an open process at all. At least with the members of the Classification Board, the appointment of them is open and we’re able to see it, although it is a worry that the actual appointments have to go quite as a high in government as they appear to be doing. I would like to see more respect with regard to those appointments paid to some people who have knowledge and appreciation of film. It seems to me that if you’re an expert these days, you’re an anathema to this government.
I’m concerned that the terrible thing is that this is not a vote-winning issue. No politician cares about this. Just about every politician will run from it, in droves. Because …people like me are seen to be supporting snuff movies, are supporting child abuse coming into this country. I’m sorry that is absolutely so wrong and it’s so wrong to label people like myself who really just want to defend civil rights in this country with those sort of labels. No, I just think adults ought to be able to see what they want. I do not think that criminal material should come into this country. I wish somewhere along the line, somewhere in this country, some politicians had some guts and principle.
I do think we’re going backwards at a rate of knots and I do think that we ought to change the name of the Classification Board back to the old Censorship Board.
DM: If I could add just a couple of things to what Margaret has said. The list of possible classifiers at the OFLC is now a matter for cabinet consideration in this country…astonishing. I actually deeply disagree with Margaret about this not being a vote winner. It is a big vote winner for the Howard government for us to be seen to be objecting to a film festival not being able to screen this film, this plays to a congregation that the Howard government is extremely keen to convince that they are there as guardians of their social values and of their sense of what Australia should be. I think I would speak for everybody at this table when we say that fighting for the release of this film to a festival is in a sense an extremely important sideshow to the real event – to fight for the release of this film to the entire community. We are not here seeking special privileges for festival goers as such.
Julie Rigg: I want to talk about the Classification Board’s refusal for a classification for Ken Park and then some matters taken up in the finding of the Board of Review, which are in the current guidelines and which amount to a kind of dead zone, a kind of Bermuda triangle into which representations of some of the most testing and challenging periods of life, that is, the teens may fall.
Two years ago, the OFLC circulated proposals for new guidelines on the grounds that there was a convergence between film, video and computer games which made a uniform set of guidelines appropriate. The FCCA opposed then this guideline believing that while the old guidelines were far from perfect, film, video and computer games are different media, they are viewed differently, and the impact of compressing guidelines into a uniform set of standards would be to apply more conservative standards to film from video and computer games, in an ironic kind of way this is what has happened in this case. There are also some proposed guidelines on sex and drug use. Videos were to be refused classification if they depicted sex in a way that is likely to affect a reasonable adult or if a person who is or looks like a person under the age of 18 is involved in sex, nudity, violence, drug use or other activity. The age of consent for most states at that time for both heterosexual and homosexual activity was 16. It is now uniformly 16. Clearly community standards were changing toward an acceptance of homosexuality. We pointed out then that it is deeply patronising of Australians between the ages of 16 and 18, restrictive of filmmakers and outrageously restrictive of the rights of the audience to limit the possibility of making or viewing films which represent sexual activity in this age group. It is also extremely bad policy to ban representations of actions not in themselves illegal.
The proposed guidelines also prepared to extend references to drug use beyond illegal drugs to the inappropriate use of substances that damage health or are legally restricted to adults. Again, we opposed this. We oppose the conscription of film, video and computer games as health education tools. Can you imagine what would happen to our film heritage when films featuring Groucho Marx with his cigar or James Bond with his martini are refused classification?
Well what happened? The submissions by the FCCA and Watch on Censorship were summarised by an academic consultant to the Board, and characterised as ‘libertarian’. The proposed guidelines were amended. The references to substances that damage health were withdrawn. The references to sexual activity involving people who are or look like they’re under the age of 16 in the X category were retained. Clearly it seemed to me that while the guidelines are a political document, the result of a series of trade-offs between State Ministers and the Commonwealth, that they were more frightened of upsetting the alcohol and tobacco lobbies then they were at giving filmmakers a reasonable chance of representing some of the most crucial years of adolescence in matters of sexuality and audiences to see those representations.
This guideline attempting to restrict the way sex is depicted by people who appear to be under the age of 18 is in fact a nonsense in a society where the age of consent is 16. It is a backdoor form of conservatism, which has borne bitter fruit. It is very bad policy and it should be repealed. I hope you will join us in working to have this repealed.
Finally, I want to get back to the original grounds of classification from the Board. The Board said in their view the film contains scenes of actual sexual activity involving characters who are portrayed as minors that could not be accommodated within the R18+ classification. The R18+ classification permits material that is high in impact. The intensity, cumulative effect, tone and treatment of the scenes of sexual activity exceeded this impact test. What impact test? How much is too much? I think the guidelines and their operation need some urgent re-thinking.
David Haines: When the new legislation for festivals was drawn up, which commenced on 1 Jan 1996, it seemed that festivals had been allowed to be exempt from the classification system. There were some voices of warning. It’s pretty obvious now that the exemption provisions are not worth to quote that expert on filmic merit, Senator Julie McGowan, “a hill of beans.” It has to be said that festivals to a large extent have only themselves to blame because when the Censorship Ministers endorsed the draft festival exemption guidelines in ’96, the officials were requested to distribute for comment those guidelines and they were sent out to 24 organisations, only one responded. I suspect that’s to do with the fact that festivals are always very busy, short-staffed and have more important things to think about. But it’s a shame that more attention wasn’t paid to the festival exemptions at the time.
As was established clearly in ’95, public exhibition standards now apply to festival films; we’ve already heard that films classified RC or X are not permitted to be shown at festivals. There is the old argument, why should festivals be treated as an elitist group but I think there are very good reasons why festivals should be allowed to screen films like Ken Park, which may or may not warrant public exhibition.
The only avenue for a film like Ken Park now, hopeless as it is because it involves politicians, is for the State Minister responsible, in this case, the NSW Attorney General, to direct the director of the OFLC to grant an exemption to the film and if it’s a matter of getting the print into the country, it’s within the powers of the Federal Attorney General to grant an exemption to the Customs Act that bans films which have been refused classification. So there is a mechanism there which would allow the film to be brought in but it relies entirely on the good will, in fact the political will, of those two Attorneys, the Federal and State.
DM: As I understand it, that course of action – to get the NSW Attorney General to direct the OFLC director to grant exemption – was attempted and failed.
DH: There is a very important question that we need to ask of the Minister’s Office: why in essence are festivals re being treated in the same way as any ordinary cinema? What is the point of having festival conditions and concessions if they’re basically meaningless?
DM: The Board of Review is kind of a high court of censorship in Australia. The OFLC classifies films in the first instance. Then, if they see otherwise, distributors, interested parties and politicians are able to take the OFLC decision and appeal it to it to the Board of Review, which is by statute an independent body and not part of the OFLC’s framework. Maureen Shelley has been Convenor of the Board of Review for about 18 months. Why did the Review Board uphold the banning of this film?
Maureen Shelley: We had a number of reasons. Mainly that there were a number of scenes, at least four, which exceeded the impact that we considered to be high, so that the accumulative impact was very high. Those scenes in question were the masturbation scene … there’s one scene of about two minutes in length where a young boy, whose probably around 16 or 17, you’re never actually told, masturbates. He does so sitting on the floor with some sort of device around his neck which he tightens during the two minute period. And that scene is quite detailed and as I said it’s two minutes so it’s prolonged. And at the end of the scene, you don’t actually see the ejaculation but his penis is erect, of course during this two minutes, and at the end of the episode, which is symbolically illustrated by him frothing at the mouth, you then see a detailed semen trail. It’s quite detailed, quite prolonged and that scene was considered of very high impact. The young man in question is a minor rather then an adult.
DM: When you say that’s high impact, why? What’s the scale? Community acceptance?
MS: There is a community acceptance issue. All the members of the Review Board are community members, we are appointed as representatives of the community. We have to work within the Act, the national classification code and the guidelines, and the guidelines are pretty clear that realistically depicted sex is fine, actual sex is not generally the rule. We’ve allowed in the past actual sex to go through and that scene on its own, I don’t think, would have been sufficient reason to have refused the film classification. It was the fact that it was one of a number of scenes, which accumulated to give this very high impact. Other scenes – attempted fellatio of a young man by his father, it was either actual or implicit, it was very difficult to see at the exact stage. The Classification Board also didn’t come down either way as to which it was. That was also quite prolonged and quite detailed. The young man in question again was depicted as a teenage schoolboy and he wasn’t a consent to the activity, he was asleep so the issue of consensual sex didn’t come into it.
MP: I think the interesting point about your decision is that you include child sexual abuse in your description. I’d like to know where it is?
MS: Well that was the scene; this young man in this masturbation scene was under 18.
MP: The young man who is 16 or 17 is a child?
MS: Yes, legally a child. Anyone in Australia is legally a child under 18.
MP: But it’s now legal to have sex at 16 in this State.
MS: There was another scene which was three minutes long where there was actual sex involved but that was consensual sex among people of their own age. This was the attempted rape or actual rape of a young man clearly without his consent.
DM: Do you recognise that in order for the OFLC and for the Review Board to be able to manage their own work that something is going to be have to done about guidelines which deal with films that do include actual sex? There is a whole set of guidelines for porn – actual sex to the max. And there is now an area opening up in perfectly respectable cinema where there is some depiction of actual sex.
MS: And some depiction is allowed. We have also permitted films to be classified which had child sex abuse in them, so City Of God (Fernando Meirelles, 2002) was one which was given an R classification and that showed a 12 or 13 year old boy being given fellatio by a woman of about 40 but it was very, very brief, it was a long way away from where the main action in the room was taking place and there was no detail, so those sorts of things are what we do take into account – whether they’re prolonged, detailed and gratuitous.
DM: Would anybody in the community other then perhaps a lawyer familiar with this field call a 16 year old, a child? It seems to me to be a term of art as you use it. A child for me is somebody far younger then that.
MS: The legislation talks specifically about depictions of child sex abuse. Under the law, a person under the age of 18 is a child. We didn’t use the term child in relation to the consensual sex, which took place over about four minutes in the film because the parties involved were all clearly giving consent to what they were doing. We didn’t talk about that being child sex abuse, that was just considered to be consensual sex of minors.
MP: Did you ever take into account that this film has been released all over the world? And that we are looking like a country of wowsers?
MS: We look at what is considered acceptable within Australia using the Australian law.
DM: Isn’t the regulation to refuse classification about the appearance of someone being under 16 not under 18?
MS: That talks about other acts which might be demeaning or gratuitous of the depiction of people under 16. The actual child sex abuse just talks about the depiction of child sex abuse. And as I said we have allowed actual child sex abuse to go through. The Review Board felt that the filmmaker could have got his point across in a lot less then a minute and a half.
DM: But you’re not the filmmaker?
DH: There is an interesting anomaly here in that the refused classification guideline refers to people under the age of 16 years. It’s only in relation to X films that people have to be over 18 before they can indulge in sexual activity. There does seem to be something of an anomaly there – depictions of child sexual abuse involving a person who is or looks like a child under 16 years, these are clearly people who are and are depicted as being over 16. I find that puzzling.
Cathy Robinson: The Board of the Sydney Film Festival stands by its director’s programming decision in respect of Ken Park. I want to reiterate a point that Margaret made earlier that film festivals cease doing their jobs if festivals directors do not have the capacity to program with certainty that the films they program are going to be seen. It’s a critical point to make that one of the issues in respect of film festivals is that there is a programming process, films are selected, they don’t just willy-nilly end up in the program, somebody looks at them and thinks about them in the context both of the films themselves and also in terms of the architecture of the actual event and also in the context of that traditional festival ideal that we have in Australia, which is about bringing a survey of the world’s best and most provocative cinema in this case to Sydney audiences. I also want to take up the point that Margaret and Julie made which is that this is the beginning of the debate, that the decision in respect to Ken Park is not necessarily the main game, it sits in a broader context about a debate in Australian about what is reasonable for adult audiences to have access to, to read, to see and think about.
DM: There is a print of Ken Park in the country. Why aren’t we watching it now?
CR: We thought long and hard about whether to show the film illegally and we decided against it and the reason why is because we think the issue we’re dealing with is bigger then this film. We were immensely concerned that if we showed the film the debate would end up being about Ken Park and about the SFF committing an illegal act rather than a broader debate about the principles under which films’ can be screened in Australia and we thought that was the bigger and more important debate.
JR: Maureen, I want to go back to one of phrases used by the Board for Ken Park‘s banning. Is there any sense in which anyone who has seen that film can understand it as condoning child abuse? I’m trying to find a very fundamental principle here – the distinction between representation and prescription/condoning.
MS: It’s not an easy thing. The Classification Review Board took 11.5 hours to reach the decision that we did so we gave the matter very serious consideration and spent literally hours going over Ross’ arguments, which we took extremely seriously.
JR: But is that scene going to encourage child abuse?
MS: We have to follow the legislation, we can’t go outside it. We have some discretion but we can’t completely overturn the guidelines and the code. We believe very seriously that this film could not sit within an R classification for sale or hire. And that was the decision which we had to make. If the decision we had to make was about an exemption for a festival, I can’t say that we would have made the same decision. But that wasn’t our decision to make.
JR: But there’s a very serious issue here for filmmakers and film lovers that if the law as currently defined says you cannot represent child abuse for fear that you’re condoning it then that’s a kind of black hole, just like the difference between what is a uniform age of consent at 16 for all sexual activity and this nonsense guidelines which talk about 18.
MS: As I said before, we have interpreted the guidelines as allowing depictions of child sex abuse provided that they don’t reach that other thing in the code about the general standards that adults considered ‘reasonable’. In this instance, at that length and detail, it was more then what was necessary. And if it’s gratuitous, then that is all taken into the account.
DM: In the end, no matter how you say we must only follow the guidelines, what you get down to in the end is your judgement of what offends reasonable people in the community and that’s not a guideline issue that’s a moral issue. There is one thing that unites everybody in the community and that is an absolute horror of bank robberies and yet bank robberies are depicted continuously in films.
MS: The legislation, the code and the guidelines do set out very clearly a hierarchal status of classification with X being above R and a Refused Classification being above X and R. We did actually consider whether this film could fit into X but it couldn’t because of the violence inherent in the film. We can’t overturn the guidelines to the point to say at R you are allowed to have actual sex and violence which you’re not allowed to have at X. We can’t do that.
MP: Larry Clark says there’s no actual sex in this film.
MS: I don’t know how else you define masturbation? But that boy was clearly masturbating for two straight minutes – does that not fit into the definition of sex if it’s only one person and they’re enjoying it?
© Sydney Film Festival & FCCA, July 2003