Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Durban film festival: How to ban a movie

The first thing the Film and Publication Board’s (FPB) manager for operations, Nthabiseng May, said on Wednesday at the panel discussion on the criteria for FPB classification at the Durban International Film Festival (Diff) was, "I am uncomfortable standing here among you."

And she had every right to be. Since the classification of the film Of Good Report as "child pornography", the FPB has – apart from some reasoned discussions in media – been under fire from most quarters.

At the panel discussion, board member Prince Ndamase was at pains to explain that he was on the side of the film industry, but that the classifiers acted legally.

"This is where the problem lies. It's with the Act [Films and Publications Act of 1996]. It's a matter of damned if you do, dammed if you don't," he said, and implied if the FPB hadn’t classified it, the board would have been in breach of its mandate. Sipho Risiba, the FPB's acting chief operations officer, said that the board assumed full responsibility for the refusal of classification, and he will defend the decision.

Under the Act, the board is required to stop watching a film the moment it discovers depictions of sex with someone under the age of 18. There is a discrepancy in the legal age of consent, which is 16.

What should, however, be relevant to the  board is a judgement made in a similar case against it – which constitutional law expert Pierre De Vos referenced in a Daily Maverick article on the matter on Tuesday. "As the De Reuck judgment made clear, it is not possible to determine whether an image as a whole amounts to child pornography without regard to the context."

So, what would be the context in this case? That the FPB discovered after the depicted sexual act – much like the horrified school teacher character at that moment in the film – the female protagonist was under the age of 18?

'Aesthetic element'
This makes one wonder about the qualifications of the classifiers themselves, and whether they were aware of the "aesthetic element", as outlined by former chief justice Pius Langa, in the judgment: "Where, however, the aesthetic element is predominant, the image will not constitute pornography.”

Ndamase, however, said: "We agree with artistic merit, but it is not legally a basis for exemption." Meanwhile, and without giving any examples, Risiba pointed out that there have been further amendments since the ruling.

Who are the people who classified Of Good Report? We are not allowed to know. The full list of all classifiers is available through the FPB offices, but as this case is in appeal, the FPB cannot reveal who classified it. What we do know is that the decision to classify was unanimous, and that there were four, rather than the standard three, classifiers. May, the FPB’s operations manager, did point out that all classifiers were qualified in the fields of film, psychology and respective disciplines.

The FPB stated it was trying to get the appeals process started as quickly as possible, and that it would take place this weekend. The appeals board is an independent board from the FPB, and is legally allowed to watch the entire film in order to make its decision.

According to Ndamase, the Act is due for review in the next year and consultations with the film industry have to take place to prevent another Of Good Report incident. Ndamase also said last year's Diff FPB panel was poorly attended by members of the industry. 

Previous successful appeals against classifications (that is classification, not refusal of classification) have included films or trailers for Mama Jack, Snow White and the Huntsman, The Dictator and Narnia.

In the judgment overturning of the classification of Narnia, the appeals board said: "This present case is another instance of examiners applying the wrong guidelines."

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

Fears of violence persist a year after the murder of...

The court battle to stop coal mining in rural KwaZulu-Natal has heightened the sense of danger among environmental activists

Data shows EFF has lower negative sentiment online among voters...

The EFF has a stronger online presence than the ANC and Democratic Alliance

More top stories

Kenya’s beach boys fall into sex tourism, trafficking

In the face of their families’ poverty, young men, persuaded by the prospect of wealth or education, travel to Europe with their older female sponsors only to be trafficked for sex

High court reinstates Umgeni Water board

The high court has ruled that the dissolution of the water entity’s board by Minister Lindiwe Sisulu was unfair and unprocedural

Mkhize throws the book at the Special Investigating Unit

It’s a long shot at political redemption for the former health minister and, more pressingly, a bid to avert criminal charges

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…