They are regular albeit unpredictable events emblazoned on the Australian film culture calendar. Observers know of them all too well: government-financed productions directed by clipboard-wielding people in dark screening rooms.

They are, of course, the critically lambasted antics of our national censorship body, the Australian Classification Board.

The most recent instalment premiered late last month, when up-and-coming American filmmaker Travis Matthews’ drama I Want Your Love was granted an RC rating, effectively banning it from Australian screens. The film, which depicts graphic homosexual sex, was due to play at festivals across the country.

This arrived four months after Canadian horror-comedy Father’s Day was similarly banned. Before that, Norwegian horror/thriller The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) was OKed for distribution in May 2011. In an embarrassing about-face it was banned late November, then, with less than one minute shaved off its running time, re-granted an R classification.

This time is a little different, in the sense Hollywood has become involved. At least, one man: 34-year-old actor, filmmaker, teacher and one-time Academy Awards host James Franco.

The Oscar-nominated star of 127 Hours and Oz the Great and Powerful (which opens in Australian cinemas this Thursday) has weighed into the Australian censorship debate via this video message, in which he speaks directly to the Classification Board.

Franco, who has previously worked with Matthews, describes the banning of I Want Your Love as “hypocritical” and “disappointing”:

“Travis is making this film, including sex, because he wants to explore story and character and the nuances that sex contains.

“Because films have been banned because of sex, sex and films hasn’t had a chance to grow and become a sophisticated storytelling device. And frankly adults should be able to choose. They’re not going in blind. I don’t know why in this day and age, something like this — a film that is using sex not for titillation but to talk about being human — is being banned. It’s just embarrassing.”

The Australian Classification Board not just embarrasses by the films it chooses to ban and the inconsistencies in its approach — it also embarrasses by the films it allows to screen, or simply doesn’t bother to review.

Last August, a documentary feature called Donkey Love played at both the Melbourne Underground Film Festival and the Sydney Underground Film Festival. The film explores the sexual relationships between Colombian men and their donkeys.

“Within the first five minutes of Donkey Love, someone has fucked a donkey and it gets worse and worse,” said MUFF director Richard Wolstencroft, who was surprised the censorship body let it pass. “We got full permission from them [the Classification Board] to play it.”

They didn’t, in fact, even request a copy to review.

The implication appears to be obvious: a film featuring sex with donkeys is OK; a film that depicts homosexual sex is a no-no.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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