Durban film festival: Bannings, non-bannings and non-screenings

Part of the cause of the movie not being screened on Sunday was the recent banning (pending appeal) of Jahmil XT Qubeka’s Of Good Report, and the other part of it was a slow response from the Durban International Film Festival (Diff) press office.

The first response to the film not being screened was slow and the facts about it were thin, causing speculation to run wild. What actually happened was simpler.

The Film and Publication Board (FPB) requested a screening copy of Winterbottom's film and were sent a private link to watch it online. The board's response to Diff was that it did not have the facilities to view films on the internet.

Charl Blignaut of City Press said: “It’s rather worrying that the FPB, whose primary task it is to monitor child porn online doesn’t have internet access for screenings.” Diff chose to not screen the film, in case it was refused classification. But seeing as The Look of Love was produced by the BBC and is said to be a film aired on board international flights, it’s highly doubtful that it contains dubious content.

As the FPB do not normally request screening copies and generally gives Diff overall exemption, it is reasonable to assume that Diff wasn’t prepared for the unprecedented demand for screening copies of seven films – something which has not happened in Diff’s 34 year history – and that the distribution house was unable to respond and get a copy to the FPB in time for the screening.

The FPB was alerted to the possibility of The Look of Love being pornographic from its synopsis, and perhaps their suspicions were aroused by this section: “the true story of British porn baron Paul Raymond … who is forced to deal with seeing his daughter fall apart under the influence of drugs”.

Porn and children in one sentence, and there you go.

Reaction to Of Good Report banning
Regarding Of Good Report?'s banning and unpacking the issues around the Films and Publications Act of 1996, a statement released on Sunday by Professor Keyan Tomaselli of the Centre for Communication, Media and Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, pointed out that the FPB acted legally.

“The committee [FPB] did not describe the film as pornographic, but in terms of the definitions of the Act. The word ‘pornography’ is a media invention.” He then goes on to state that the "issue of the banning goes far deeper than simply trying to apportion blame on individuals working in a single state department". Tomaselli then went on to state: “This Act claims an administrative classification function but is, in fact censorship. The one has become blurred with the other in official discourse.”

On the FPB's website, its frequently asked questions section explains what constitutes child pornography in South Africa.

“In terms of South African law, 'child pornography' is any picture, regardless of how it was created, or any description, of a real or imaginary person who is under the age of 18 years, or is represented as being under the age of 18 years –

1. engaged or involved in any form of sexual activity;

2. participating in or assisting another person to participate in any form of sexual activity; or

3. any picture which shows, or any writing which describes, the body or any part of the body of a real or imaginary person under the age of 18 years in circumstances that amount to sexual exploitation or in a manner that makes it capable of being used for the purpose of sexual exploitation.”

Depictions within the film
The central questions, according to Tomaselli's statement, are: “Might the film, for example, have the [unintended] effect of promoting teacher-pupil sexual relations amongst some communities of viewers? Does it criticise such relations? What is the normative benchmark against which the narrative is set?” And then later, he asked, “Does the predator/teacher/rapist get criticised by the narrative?” 

But the FPB is not concerned with the intention of the film, it is concerned with the depictions within it.

And that is the issue at hand, the Act (and not the FPB) does not allow us to talk about teenage sexuality because the Act speaks to a mindset that is incapable of recognising the middle ground between childhood and adulthood, especially relating to women. It is a mindset that expects women to miraculously, at the stroke of midnight on their 16th birthday, become fully formed sexual beings.

Having seen Of Good Report before Diff at a private screening in Cape Town, I can say that it registers as a cautionary tale, a critique on a society that allows sexual predators to go unpunished. It is an incredibly masculine film, but it also gives the character Nolitha agency in her own sexual awakening and it is this element, and its portrayal by a 23-year-old actress, that discounts the possibility of it being “capable of being used for the purpose of sexual exploitation”; it is possible that it is this depiction more than anything else that makes the FPB uncomfortable.

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