The American actor-director says the ban is 'silly" and 'hypocritical".
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5 Mar 2013 - 1:46 PM  UPDATED 5 Mar 2013 - 1:46 PM

UPDATED: James Franco has used YouTube to lash the Australian Classification Board for refusing to allow I Want Your Love, the gay-themed drama written and directed by his friend and collaborator Travis Mathews, to be screened at festivals.

"I don’t think we’d be having this conversation if he’d made a very violent film."

Last month the board nixed the film from appearing at several Australian festivals including Sydney's Mardi Gras Film Festival and the Melbourne and Brisbane Queer Film Festivals.

Festival films usually are exempt from classification but the board objected to its 6-minute long explicit sex scene which, it deemed, lacked narrative context. The board said the film, which centres of a gay man spending his last night in San Francisco before he moves back home to the Midwest, would have got an X18+ rating and was thus ineligible to be exempted.

“This is such a disappointment to me and seems really silly,” said Franco, who co-directed with Mathews the film Interior. Leather Bar, which reimagines the 40 minutes that William Friedkin claims he was forced to cut from his 1980 film Cruising to get an R rating. That film screened in an official selection at the Sundance festival in January.

In the YouTube video, Franco declares the director “was using sex in a very sophisticated way… To keep it from films that want to explore it as human behaviour is very short-sighted and I think very hypocritical. I don't think we'd be having this conversation if he'd made a very violent film”.

Franco's plea may be in vain as no appeal has been lodged to the Review Board. As the film wasn't classified, festivals cannot lodge an appeal to the Review Board.

The Director of the Classification Board, Lesley O'Brien, tells SBS Film, “The film was considered as part of an application … to grant the film an exemption from classification, under the Film Festival Guidelines. The film was not granted an exemption because to have done so would have been inconsistent with the Guidelines. Under those Guidelines, if it is likely that, if classified, an unclassified film would be classified X 18+ (Restricted), the Director will not grant an exemption. In this case, the film contains detailed and prolonged scenes of actual explicit sexual activity, such that it is likely to fall within the parameters of the X 18+ category if it were classified.”

So while O'Brien points out the film could be submitted for classification, the clear implication is that it would be rejected unless those explicit scenes were cut.

The film screened in the US at Frameline36 and Outfest and at the Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Fest, and is being released on DVD in the US this month.

Change.org circulated a petition asking the board to overturn its decision. The film's editor Bryan Darling posted a comment on Change.org's website, declaring he finds it “appalling that a modern Western country would deny its citizens the fundamental right of free speech. Please take the time to examine the policies of your bureaucracy and let individuals decide what they feel about this film.”

Author Christos Tsiolkas, who wrote The Slap, Dead Europe and Loaded (filmed as Head On), said on the site, “It is not only outrageous that in the 21st Century that we are a country that is banning film for explicit sexual content (and can someone please explain to the Australian Classification Board the difference between morality and moralism!) but it is even more dangerous and distressing that clearly the ban arises from the homophobic and anti-sex positions of Board members. So this is not only a silly and small-minded decision but it is also an undemocratic and malevolent decision. We will watch "I Want Your Love" (fortunately, the ACB can't control the internet yet) but we should have the right to watch it freely, as adults, in a situation where the filmmakers are properly remunerated.

“I am disgusted with the Board for the decision; with the government for allowing it to happen on their watch; and the politicians of all sides for bleating on about democracy all the time but standing and watching the basic tenets of democracy undermined and abandoned.”