April 2007

Dramatic censorship

Kelvikuri, the first film from actor/director/producer Jailani has run into problems (via) with the Indian Censor board.

On the premise that the film depicted the police force in poor light, the Censor asked 2 police officers to see the film. When they police officers said they were horrified at the depiction of the police in the film, the Censor Board refused to give the clearance certificate.

What is so terrible in Kelvikuri for such strict action?

Simple! The heros wife is taken by police for interrogation. There she dies under mysterious circumstances and no satisfactory explanation is given. The angry hero barges into the police commissioners house and makes hostages of the inmates. He then invites the police officers one by one and takes revenge on them.

Of course, blocking a film for not depicting them as all sweetness and light casts a far worse shadow over the police force than any film could manage.

Inciting censorship

Earlier this month, the Australian government announced plans to tighten the countrys already strict censorship rules by banning books and films deemed to “glorify terrorism.”

After state and territory attorneys-general blocked the attempt, the Federal Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock expressed outrage at at DVD he hadnt seen, provoking a convenient outrage in the Australian media.

And now - surprise, surprise - the Federal Government has just released (via) a discussion paper outlining another set of tough new censorship proposals, expanding the definition of material that can be banned in the country. The proposals also tighten the already stringent film and literature classifications.

Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls warned that it was important that any changes were clearly defined so as not to inadvertently catch materials that simply expressed different points of view.

Meryl Streep massacred

It probably is possible to argue that this isnt a censorship issue but two Hollywood films face being indefinitely shelved (via) because the issues they deal with are a timely echo of the recent events at Virginia Tech.

Based on the events of a 1991 tragedy in which a Chinese physics student opened fire in two buildings on the University of Iowa campus, Dark Matter stars Meryl Streep as a university patron who tries to befriend the troubled student. Like Cho, the student was a loner who felt persecuted. He embarked on his killing spree after being told that his doctoral dissertation paper would not be chosen for a prize. One of his victims was the prizewinner and he finally turned the gun on himself.

And then there is The Killer Within, a documentary which traces the tragic story of Bob Bechtel who, at the age of 22, went berserk at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania in the 1950s after being severely bullied.

Distributors are refusing to touch either of these films because - lets face it - no-one really wants to understand what leads to tragedies like these when its easier to just blame a film not enough people have heard of and wait for the next Michael Bay blockbuster to turn up instead.

FCC seeks to ban more TV

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), apparently unaware that many TVs now have an off switch, are intending (via) to recommend that Congress enact legislation to give the government unprecedented powers to curb violence in entertainment programming, according to government and TV industry sources.

The FCC has long had the power to to fine broadcasters for transmitting sexually suggestive, or indecent - your definition is as good as mine, here - and a tightening of these rules last year has already had a free speech impact in the US. But now it wants the same vaguely defined and wholly excessive powers to decide the level of violence that viewers should be allowed to choose to see.

First Amendment experts and television industry executives, however, say that any attempt to regulate TV violence faces high constitutional hurdles particularly regarding cable, because consumers choose to buy its programming.

Further, any laws governing TV violence would have to define what violence is. The FCC report contains broad guidelines but leaves the details up to Congress.

Adam D. Thierer, a senior fellow at the Progress Freedom Foundation who writes extensively on government regulation of the media, pointed out that the tools to preventing children from seeing violent content is in the hands of the parents - literally.

How to bring the law into disrepute

Ive already mentioned the ridiculous overreaction to Richard Geres ill-conceived embrace of Shilpa Shetty at an AIDS awareness concert, but now things have gotten really silly.

An Indian judge on Thursday issued arrest warrants for both Gere and Shetty for contravening the countrys public obscenity laws over the incident.

Judge Dinesh Gupta issued the warrants in the north-western city of Jaipur following an official complaint from a member of the public about the display of affection last week between the 57-year-old Hollywood star and Shetty, 31, the Press Trust of India reported.

Earlier in the week, Shetty had accused parts of the Indian media of being highly irresponsible in making such a fuss of the kiss.

Thailand considers film ratings

Thailands Ministry of Culture has drafted (via) a new Thai Film Act in an effort to update the kingdoms currently archaic censorship system. The major change of the act, which is about to be submitted to the National Legislative Assembly, is that it will introduce a film-rating system.

The Thai film industry has been petitioning governments for decades to amend the current Thai Film Act that was promulgated in 1930, two years before the country opted for a democractic system under a constitutional monarchy.

Under existing legislation, Thai and foreign films are subject to appraisals by a strict censorship board, dominated by senior police officers, that have a reputation for cutting out all explicit sex scenes and anything deemed offensive to the national religion, Buddhism, or themes thought politically sensitive.

The industry has been lobbying to have the current censorship system replaced by film ratings, such as R for films restricted to adults.

But some are already worried that the amended film act may worsen the environment for artistic freedom rather than improve it.

It could be even worse, because theyll have both the rating system and, probably, the censors, film critic Suparb Rimthephhathip warned.

The censorship debate in Thailand hit the news last week when the award-winning Thai film Saeng Sattawat (Syndromes and a Century) missed its local début in Thai cinemas because of the board of censors insisted on cutting several sensitive scenes.

Sex and religion banned in Singapore

Two films that were to have been shown at the Singapore International Film Festival have run into difficulties after censors demanded cuts for explicit sexual content and religious symbols.

Princess, Anders Morgenthalers animated film in which a priest sets out to erase his dead sisters past as a porn star, was withdrawn after the censor demanded the festival cut a religiously offensive scene. According to Singapores Board of Film Censors: The scene has a porn star in a nuns habit, with a cross protruding from her behind. Film with content denigrating a religion or a religious symbol are not permitted.

Solos, a Singapore film that explores relationships among three individuals who are struggling to open up their feelings towards each other was censored because of explicit homosexual lovemaking scenes including scenes of oral sex and threesome sex, according to the censorship board said.

Loo Zihan, co-director of Solos, has not yet withdrawn the film and is appealing the censors decision. The sex scenes are not meant to titillate. Its an art film. We hope it wont be viewed as porn, he said.

Here we go again

So a deeply disturbed student tools up with a variety of weapons and goes on a rampage and, inevitably, the media starts looking for something to blame. mental illness, perhaps, or campus bullying or - if we really want to get down to basics - the easy availability of weapons in the US.

But no, none of this is addressed. Although Cho Seung-hui refers to the martyrs of Columbine High in the mid-massacre rantings he mailed to NBC, and although he compares himself to Jesus Christ, the mindless rent-a-quote mob have decided to blame a film.

The film in question is Oldboy, the second in Chan-wook Parks critically acclaimed Vengeance trilogy.

According to Nick James, editor of Sight and Sound (as quoted in The Times) said: “Oldboy is a very, very distinctive film and the most highly regarded of the films now labelled Asian Extreme cinema but it is also so ludicrously over the top that no sane person could mistake it for reality.”

He goes on to point out: “I don’t think there’s a case of cause and effect here. It’s not the movies that are the problem — it’s the guns.”

Millions of people have seen Oldboy, and other more violent films, with no repercussions. The vast majority (all bar one, assuming that Cho has actually seen the film, which is in no way proven) of this films audience get to the end of it, switch it off and go about their normal everyday lives.

Trying to blame a film - or a book, or a comic, or a game - for every shocking act of violence that comes along is not just lazy journalism, its also dishonest and manipulative journalism and more than a little sick.

EU compromises on religious hatred

After six years of heated political debate, EU member states are set to agree on a common anti-racism law, under which offenders will face up to three years in jail for stirring-up racial hatred or denying acts of genocide, such as the Holocaust.

The latest draft – cited by the Reuters news agency - foresees an EU-wide jail sentence of at least one to three years for publicly inciting to violence or hatred, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.

According to the Reuters article, Britain has narrowed the scope of the legislation so that EU states are required to punish incitement to hatred against religion only if it is a pretext to incite hatred against a group or person because of national or ethnic origin, race or colour.

The pretext to incite clause is - I think - a good thing in that it should prevent religious groups from using the legislation to block any criticism of their activities although care will be needed as there is no consistently objective way of determining when something is a pretext for something else.

The same rules would also apply to people publicly condoning, denying, or grossly trivialising crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined by international crime courts.

According to the Financial Times, this wording has been carefully chosen so that it covers denial of the Holocaust and the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Diplomats also stressed that the wording was designed to avoid criminalising comical plays or films about the Holocaust such as the Roberto Benignis Life is Beautiful.

The bill isnt in the bag yet, though. Poland and the Baltic states are still pushing for crimes under the Stalin regime in the former Soviet Union to also become part of the bills scope.

Update: Looking back at this post, my reaction has been a pragmatic - or unambitious - one that assumes that some sort of legislation will be pushed through and, therefore, the weaker it is and the more safeguards it has, the better. For a more principled reaction, go and read Jonathan Calder.

Outraged out of all proportion

On Monday, Richard Gere appeared at an AIDS awareness concert with Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty and, agter Shetty complimented Gere on his performance in Shall We Dance, Gere clumsily attempted to parody one his own moves.

And, with an almost dreary predictability, the rent-a-mob came out to play.

Groups of men burned and kicked effigies of the actors in protests across India, including in the northern Indian cities of New Delhi, Kanpur, Meerut and Varanasi as well as in the central city of Indore.

Some called for the actors deaths. Others wanted public apologies.

And now Shetty faces possible legal consequences after three lawyers filed complaints claiming that the embrace was an obscene act.

The Bollywood star, alongside two television stations, also faces charges over the airing of the footage from the event, after legal papers were filed in the town of Ghaziabad.

Many legal experts doubt these charges will ever come to court and the Associated Press reported that such criminal filings are common in conservative India. They add to a backlog of legal cases in the country that has nearly crippled the judicial system.

You have to wonder about the state of mind of people who are willing to see their countrys legal system grind to a halt in order to make a - frankly pathetic - point about a fake embrace.