After sitting through a series of speeches by distinguished guests at my first Durban International Film Festival I was shocked, just as most of the audience was, when Festival Director Peter Machen introduced the opening film, ‘Of Good Report’ by Jahmil XT Qubeka, to loud applause only to step off the stage and step back onto it moments later after, instead of the film, a “warning message” played onscreen: “This film has been refused classification by the Film and Publications Board, in terms of the Film and Publications Act 1996. Unfortunately we may not legally screen the film ‘Of Good Report’ as to do so would constitute a criminal offence.”
According to the Film and Publication Board of South Africa the film–about a high school teacher preying on one of his students–contains “scenes of child pornography” and to screen it would constitute a criminal offense.
A large part of the audience thought it was a joke, I believe, but when Peter Machen stepped back onto the stage to say that it wasn’t, there was confusion and shock. No the least from the cast members, most of whom were there. Qubeka promptly put tape over his mouth and tore up his I.D. book on stage.
The festival didn’t show an alternate film out of respect for Qubeka who had earlier said he had been bringing projects to the festival for ten years and felt honored that he had been given opening night film.
I was disappointed, to say the least, because the festival sent the film to the Film and Publication Board on 10 July and when it wasn’t cleared they tried to bring an urgent application to the board earlier that day (18 July) but this didn’t work.
With so short a time for the red tape that must involve such classifications, DIFF could have done more.
At festivals like the Berlinale pre-screenings are commonplace a day or two before the official opening for press, and if we think of films such as ‘Skoonheid’ no doubt there must have been a back-and-forth for clearing as well.
Cast and crew members of ‘Of Good Report’ feel that the Film and Publication Board is trying to keep from the public pressing issues of real-world realities (in this case: older men who date and take advantage of young girls) that perhaps resonate too close to home for some? The film’s producer Michael Auret says:
I am shocked and saddened. (…) What has become of our constitutional rights as citizens in South Africa. This is like the censorship of the old National Christian fascists of apartheid. We will fight to give South Africans the right to see the film.
Asked to comment, artist Jean Meeran says:
I want to be banned too, really. If I haven’t already, in spirit. Yes, because that’s when you know you’re doing something of value. I used to work at the Film Board, for two years. It’s very precarious, it’s three people in a room, ticking boxes, like anyone — an ex-driving instructor, a priest and myself — and it just depends who is in the room. You could end up being banned. I don’t know how it is there now. That time it was like that. If a woman is made to look like a child then it’s child pornography — it’s irrelevant that she’s actually 23. It really depends who was sitting in the room. If they’re looking through the male gaze and they can’t look outside that they would think it’s just pornography.
Needless to say, everyone will watch the film as soon as it’s cleared.