Sweden is the latest country to abolish film censorship, joining the rest of Scandinavia, Austria and Belgium, an enlightened move which I'd love to see adopted in Australia.
No one wants to see films featuring child pornography, bestiality or sexual violence shown here, and Aussie distributors agree the present system of classifying films is working well. Indeed, the Classification Board did not ban any film for public exhibition in 2007-2008.
But Cineuropa, the European government-backed media organization, made an excellent point when it reported the Swedish reforms, noting: “In a digital era in which films are viewed in so many different forms, forcing distributors to submit their films to a censorship board seemed obsolete, and critics of the archaic system have for a long time lobbied to abolish censorship and check only those films with an age limit of 15, as exists in most other countries.”
Ironically, Sweden was the first country in the world to introduce film censorship almost a century ago. However the Swedish board, Statens biografbyrån, hasn't banned or cut a major film for adults since Martin Scorsese's Casino in 1995. In a report commissioned by the Swedish government, chief censor Marianne Eliason recommended that film distributors would still be able to submit films for classification, and those movies that are not classified would be limited automatically to 'restricted for under 15' category. A new body would be created to protect children and youth to oversee film classification for children under 15. The new system, which will have to be ratified by the Swedish Parliament, is expected to be introduced in 2011.
So, could we see similar reforms here? Probably not, according to two distributors I spoke to, and I suspect the Family First/Hillsong section of the community would never countenance that prospect. “It wouldn't make a huge practical difference and I'm not sure that any changes are likely,” says Paramount Pictures' Mike Selwyn.
The issue in Sweden, says Selwyn, is not about censorship, but classification and whether that is appropriate for adults. “What Sweden is saying that any film can be screened – subject to broader legislation on obscenity, racial vilification, child porn etc – but then the film will automatically be excluded from people under 15,” he observes. “If you want a younger rating, you submit it to the new body.”
Universal Pictures' Mike Baard says, “Our R rating pretty much allows anything short of porn to be distributed, I haven't heard of a recent case of a film not being granted certification, so we probably do already have the system in place.”
Meanwhile, the British Board of Film Classification has passed Lars Von Trier's Antichrist without any cuts. The film, which provoked walk-outs and fierce debate at the Cannes film festival, was classified '18' for strong real sex, bloody violence and self-mutilation. I wonder how Antichrist would be viewed by our Classification Board; we may never know, as no one has yet bought the Australian rights.
Von Trier's film will screen at next month's Melbourne International Film Festival, and the Classification Board has indicated it's keen to see it….despite the fest's exemption from the usual classification process.