The Schizophrenic Nature of Australian Classification
In reviewing the classification, the Review Board worked within the framework of the National Classification Scheme, applying the provisions of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, the National Classification Code and the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games. This is the same framework used by the Classification Board.
From the Australian Classification Review Board press release
announcing the RC for A Serbian Film
Almost exactly one month after A SERBIAN FILM hit Australian DVD shelves it was dramatically removed after the Australian Classification Review Board retracted the R rating that the Australian Classification Board previously passed. For the first time in almost 10 years a mainstream (non-porn) film has been withdrawn from circulation after a general release.
Back in 2002 BAISE MOI was passed uncut with an R rating by the, then called, OFLC. 2 weeks before it's theatrical premiere Christian crusader Fred Nile began a push, sight unseen, to have the film banned. After several other public pushes (again from individuals who had not seen the film) the Attorney-General officially placed the request for a review 4 days before the film's release. In a random trick of fate and holiday scheduling, the Classification Review Board could not convene for almost 3 weeks.
BAISE MOI went on to play cinemas in Melbourne and Sydney for the next 3 weeks with a great deal of support from the media and the public. As the film finally went to the Review Board they overturned the original R rating and decided to refuse it classification (aka: ban it). In another amusing fateful coincidence this decision was passed late on a Friday afternoon. Both the Melbourne and Sydney cinemas showing the film continued screenings over the weekend claiming that until they received official notice they would not stop. The police ended up stopping screenings in Sydney on the Sunday while the Lumiere in Melbourne defiantly continued their showings until Monday.
In the 3 weeks that BAISE MOI screened before it was banned over 50,000 Australians saw the film. OFLC director at the time Des Clark, famously later said that only 'one or two' of those 50,000 that saw the film complained. Most of the complainants hadn't actually seen the film. Hadn't actually seen the film...
As A SERBIAN FILM blasts its way around the media-sphere we can stop to pause and think about how many of those actually complaining about the film had actually seen it? I can tell you from my own personal experience that 3 people (including two working in my video store) thought the film should be banned, sight unseen. Their opinions based on an amusingly visceral description of a couple of scenes from a customer who had just returned the film. I later learnt that customer was slightly shit-stirring these sensitive souls. The point to be made is that many of those reacting to the film are actually not responding to a personal viewing experience but rather more often than not, second-hand descriptions of random scenes.
As the film sat on video store shelves for over a month I can honestly say that it wasn't particularly popular. It was rented 7 times over 30 days. Curious viewers had the opportunity to watch it while those that were possibly offended by the material could easily steer clear. I didn't even mind when JB Hi-Fi decided not to stock the film. This is a free country and a company can choose to do that if they wish. But then the Review Board stepped in. The Australian Classification Review Board is an independent body that has the ability to veto any decision made by the Australian Classification Board (ACB).
It is important to note that 3 separate versions of A SERBIAN FILM were taken to the ACB on 3 separate occasions with the first 2 versions being refused classification before the third cut was passed with an R rating. The film's distributor Accent obviously played the game respectfully with the Board, accepting each consecutive report and cutting the film in order to get it passed. After the rigmarole you would think that would be that? You would think that despite certain individuals with political grinds to axe, the film has been classified appropriately according to all legal guidelines set out? Well, no as a matter of fact and herein lies the central issue with this whole ridiculous ordeal.
"In reviewing the classification, the Review Board worked within the framework of the National Classification Scheme, applying the provisions of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, the National Classification Code and the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games. This is the same framework used by the Classification Board."
The above quote is from the press release that accompanied the Australian Classification Review Board's decision to overturn the rating the ACB gave A SERBIAN FILM. It states clearly that the Review Board worked within 'the same framework used by the Classification Board'. So the question arises - who fucked up? Who didn't do their job properly? Was it the organization that does this job on a day to day basis and viewed three separate versions on three separate occasions before applying a rating? Or was it the organization that comprises of very few people (in this case only 3), who only view films when they are up for review (often rarely more than half a dozen cases a year and in 2010 only reviewed 2 cases) and have arguably less experience applying the framework of the codes and guidelines than the ACB?
Accent films receive no compensation for what I see as a ridiculous fuck-up by our Classification bodies. Either the film shouldn't have been passed in the first place by the ACB as it violated the code (specifically Item 1A of the Classification code) or the inexperience of the Classification Review Board have incorrectly interpreted that same code and refused the film. Now if you were to ask me which body I would trust more in their interpretation of the classification code I would have to go with the body that not only viewed the film multiple times but also the individuals that work with those rules day in and day out.
The way this scenario has played out is not only farcical but has exposed the flaws in out classification system and also highlighted how political, hypocritical and ultimately inconsistent the process actually is. Once a film is passed with a rating all it takes is one or two reactionary individuals who possibly haven't even seen the film to make a complaint. When enough conservative groundswell is raised a review is then undertaken by a very small body of people who only rarely work within the classification code.
NOTE: I should also state that I am personally not a fan of the film itself. I think A SERBIAN FILM wholly plays in the exploitation sandbox, trading on shock under the guise of allegorical meaning. To me it is a highly flawed film that doesn't deserve even half the attention it has been given. Having said all of this I feel the most important issue at stake here is not merely the obvious flaws and inconsistencies that have been highlighted in our classification system but also how influenced these bodies are by minority conservative lobby groups. A greater review of our classification system is actually currently underway but we all know how long bureaucracy takes.