Film Censorship: Ashley and Kisha: Finding the Right Fit (2007)


 

 

 

 

Ashley and Kisha: Finding the Right Fit

Directed by Tony Comstock / 2007 / USA / IMDb

ASHLEY AND KISHA: FINDING THE RIGHT FIT was due to screen at the 8th Melbourne Underground Film Festival in 2007.

Melbourne Underground Film Festival 8
Program Notes
Ashley and Kisha
Dir: Tony Comstock

Well, we played Damon and Hunter last year (against the wishes of our Big Brother at the OFLC) and we will do our best to do so again with Ashley and Kisher, this time a hot lesbian romp that will have even the hetero men lining up at the door. Comstocks’ films are open, honest and frank portrayals of homosexuality and with the true atrocities on our news every night it seems absurd to want to ban two women or men going down on each other and talking frankly about it later. Fight censorship for real at MUFF 8!
10:15pm Sat 29 Sept Glitch.

 

 

Censors prevent seven films from screening at MUFF 8

ASHLEY AND KISHA: FINDING THE RIGHT FIT was scrapped after the OFLC's Amy Wooding refused to grant film festival exemptions to it, and six other films. This was not the first time that MUFF had run into problems with the censors. In 2004, the OFLC demanded that THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (1978), WIFE TO BE SACRIFICED, AND ZA GINIPIGGU 1 and 2 be pulled from the festival.

 

The Melbourne Underground Film Festival issued the following press release on September 20, 2007.

MUFF 8 films banned!
September 20th 2007

The Following films have been banned from the OFLC:

70k
Schulmädchen-Report: Was Eltern nicht für möglich halten (aka The Schoolgirl Report)
Sex Wish
The Farmer's Daughter
Ashley & Kisha: Finding the Right Fit
Whore
60 Second Relief

We will replacing them with other films from the MUFF program.

This Sunday 70k will be replaced with a second screening of Streetsweeper… a good MUFF Neu that we can play. Whore and 60 Second Relief are withdrawn and nothing will fill their place. The Other films will be replaced. More details on Monday.

Will the media even cover this? Do people care about censorship in this country?

 

Letter to OFLC

Here is a copy of a letter sent to our OFLC contact Amy Wooding. Any response we will share with our MUFF audience:

Hi Amy, I thought I'd write to you about this year's decision.

So the films I cannot play at MUFF 8 are the following:

70k, Schulmädchen-Report: Was Eltern nicht für möglich halten (aka The Schoolgirl Report), Sex Wish, The Farmer's Daughter, Ashley & Kisha: Finding the Right Fit, Whore and 60 Second Relief

Is this correct?

I will comply and withdraw them from screenings and replace them with films you have granted permission for me to play (like Moonlight and Magic, Left Ear, etc).

A few small questions, you might be able to answer or maybe the OFLC director can answer them (If you have his email I'll cc this to him):

Why is pornography of the most gross and offensive nature (like shitting and pissing films) available for sale in most Adult bookshops in Victoria?

Also: Are not X rated films only supposed to be available in Canberra but for sale in 90% of Adult shops in Vic and NSW and in other states?

Why is MUFF referred to the justice department for wishing to screen a couple of classy or forgotten pieces of erotica with artistic merit to an audience over 18 (who are keen to see them) and nothing done about the illegal X rated sale of videos and DVD's in sex shops that is rampant?

Is there not a hint of corruption or hypocrisy and definitely absurdity here?

Why are X rated films banned at all! It begs the question given the ready availability of it in on the Internet? Available on any PC, anywhere.

A MUFF screening is a minor problem compared to the flaunting of your rules every day of every year by the Adult Sex Industry.

Why are films like Shortbus and 9 Songs passed though they clearly contravene some of your guidelines?

Why is MIFF allowed to play a film like Exterminating Angles in a section that focussed on perversity and erotica though that too contravenes your guideline? And we cannot do it? We will comply with your absurd ruling out of fear of prosecution to our small festival but register our complaint also that this is neither fair or just. We believe strongly it represents a violation of the basic human rights of Australian citizens to freedom of speech, assembly and expression.

Enabling a festival like MUFF or MIFF to play whatever they choose from the classy end of the sex industry will lift both festivals standing in the International community and not reveal a backward 1950's attitude to sex and censorship in Australia. Your own guidelines date from over 50 years ago. Surely a review is in order?

I am cc-ing this email to the MIFF Festival Director Richard Moore for his interest. His comments and feelings on the matter I would be interested to hear.

Any answers to these questions or our complaint will be greatly appreciated from the OFLC.

This letter is not written in disrespect but in a wish for better clarification of the important issues it contains.

Best Regards Richard Wolstencroft

PS. Why is 70k banned it has no sex or violence at all does it?

MUFF opens tonight at Toff in Town come down and support a festival that believes in fighting censorship!

 

 

OFLC make good on their threat

Tony Comstock was no stranger to Australian censorship as his previous film DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER (2006) was prevented from screening at the 2006 Sydney QueerDOC film Festival.

In his August 30, 2006 blog post, he wrote:

Will DAMON AND HUNTER play at QueerDOC?
comstockfilms.com/blog/tony, August 30, 2006

Yesterday the OFLC told us that the stink we’ve raised over DAMON AND HUNTER will be a factor in our future dealing with them. “Tread lightly” was their advice as to how I speak about any re-cut of my film. The intimation, and intimidation is clear: for daring to question their application of the law in this case Comstock films will receive unwelcome special attention in our future submissions.

 

See our separate database entry for more information on the DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER case.

 

 

Director Tony Comstock Responds #1

The Magnificent Seven
www.comstockfilms.com/blog/tony, September 21, 2007

Here are the seven films that the Australian government has banned from the Melbourne Underground Film Festival:
70k
Schulmädchen-Report: Was Eltern nicht für möglich halten (aka The Schoolgirl Report) 
Sex Wish 
The Farmer’s Daughter 
Ashley & Kisha: Finding the Right Fit 
Whore 
60 Second Relief

Think about this for a moment.
We’re not talking about the government of Iran or Saudi Arabia dictating what films a festival can and can’t show.
We’re not talking about self-appointed morality police picketing, protesting and lobbying.
We’re talking about the Australian government, in 2007, dictating what can and cannot be screened in a film festival.
Sons and daughters of Gallipoli, is this what you want?

 

 

Director Tony Comstock Responds #2

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
www.comstockfilms.com/blog/tony, September 22, 2007

Over the last 48 hours we’ve been writing and talking to a lot of people, including Amy Wooding, exemptions officer at the OFLC.

What has become clear is that the OFLC’s decision to ban seven films from this year’s Melbourne Underground Film Festival is an act of retaliation.

In Australia, film festivals are required to submit a list of the unclassified films they wish to screen to the OFLC and get permission to screen them. Unclassified films would include student work, undistributed work, films from outside Australia that do not yet have Australian distribution, basically any film that has not, and perhaps will never be put through Australia’s manditory ~$800 classification process.

Last year MUFF’s list included our film “Damon and Hunter: Doing it Together”, which had already been classified X by the OFLC, and the OFLC refused to grant a festival exemption to screen the film, and warned the festival not to screen the film. (The full details Aussie classification system, and the Kafkaesque x-rating is a subject for another post.)

MUFF went ahead and put “Damon and Hunter” on the program anyway. The fact that this was being done in defiance of OFLC orders was kept secret, even from me. This was our first festival outting, and we didn’t know what to expect. But we postered, blitzed the local press and hoped for the best.

In fact, so many people turned out that only by the luck that our distributor had another copy in her bag were there able to put the film up on a second screen for the overflow. By all accounts the screening was very well received.

From there the film was invited to screen at Sydney’s QueerDOC, and was scheduled to play two nights. Again the OFLC rejected the festival’s request for an exemption, only QueerDOC, citing among other things, their need to ask the OFLC’s permission to screen nearly all of the films they program, and their dependence on government funding, complied with the OFLC’s demands.

At the time, I was rather angry that QueerDOC did not go ahead with the screening of “Damon and Hunter.” But in light of the retaliatory action by the OFLC against MUFF, it would seem that QueerDOC’s course of action, if not especially courageous, was prudent. MUFF receives no government funding, but the OFLC has punnished MUFF by applying its censorship powers as broadly as it can to MUFF’s 2007 roster of film.

What happens next? Who knows.

Every Aussie filmmaker who hopes to see their work play outside the edit bay must bear in mind the OFLC as they cut their film. Every Australian distributor and festival programmer knows they must submit their films to the OFLC. Every DVD shop knows that when they sell DVDs of films that have not been classfied by the OFLC, they do so in the halflight of a selectively enforce law. I don’t know how many of our Australian collegues want to speak out against this tyranical action by the OFLC. I don’t know if any of them feel they can risk speaking out.

Our Aussie distributor is beside herself. She’s the sort of distributor every independent filmmaker dreams of finding, a passionate, tireless advocate of our work. But for now, she and MUFF would seem to stand alone. There has been no outcry, no call to arms. Right now would seem as if the Australian film community simply looks on and says, “There but for the grace of God go I” – and maybe they’re right.

More news if there is more news.

 

 

Director Tony Comstock's Letter to the Media #1

Tony Comstock's Letters to the press
September 25th, 2007

My name is Tony Comstock, I am an American documentary filmmaker, and I've run into a bit of trouble with the Australian government around the upcoming screening of my latest film, "Ashley and Kisha: Finding the Right Fit".

The film has already received positive notices in the Australian press, including LOTL, Bnews, The Sydney Star Observer, and Melbourne Community Voice. It had been schedule to play this Saturday as a part of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival, but the Office of Film and Literature Classification has not seen fit to grant an exemption for the screening (exemptions are required for all unclassified foreign films.)

"Ashley and Kisha" is a documentary exploring the role of love and sexuality in the relationship between its principals, an African- American couple from the South. In this country, being out and proud is perhaps most difficult for Southern, African-American women, and "Ashley and Kisha" is touching, yet defiant testimony to the struggle and rewards of being true to one's sexual self.

In it's decision the OFLC has cited the sexual content of the film as the reason for not granting a festival exemption for the film. Yet that very same night, across town at ACMI, the film "Destricted" will be playing under OFLC exemption. "Destricted" infamously contains very explicit sex act, nearly all depicted outside the context of love or commitment.

We believe the OFLC has erred in its decision, but there is no recourse within the OFLC structure for making an appeal.

There is also some question about the OFLC's impartiality. Last year the OFLC prevent a screening of our film "Damon and Hunter" at Sydney's queerDOC festival, an action we protested vehemently. There are some aspects of this most recent OFLC action that smack of retaliation.

Appended below are two letters I've written that give a more detailed account of what's happened to date, and contact information for the OFLC.

I hope after reading these letters, you will find you have common cause with us in our hour of need, and will send this along to whatever community or press contacts you have.

Thank you for your time.

Yours very sincerely,
Tony Comstock

 

 

Director Tony Comstock's Letter to the Media #2

Another round with the OFLC, another defeat. But a few points scored.

Late last night I had three long phone calls with a representative of the OFLC. Here's the news:

"Ashley and Kisha" is considered an unclassified foreign film, which meant that the OFLC could have done what they do in every other case, and given the film a festival exemption to play at MUFF.

But the OFLC refused to give it a festival exemption on the basis that my previous three films were classified X. The X classification is why the OFLC wouldn't allow our previous film "Damon and Hunter" to play at QueerDOC last year.

I asked why Destricted, which features work by Larry Clark, who's previous film was refused classification, was given a festival exemption and they could not answer. (It's scheduled to play the same night as "Ashley and Kisha" was, across Melbourne at ACMI.)

I asked why Destricted, which features brutally mercenary depictions of the most loveless anal sex, was given a festival exemption and they could not answer.

Their suggestion was that we submit "Ashley and Kisha" for rush classification, in the hopes that we would receive a R classification.

But...

When I asked why 9 Songs, which feature actors performing cunelingus, felatio, ejaculation, and penetration was given an R, while our films which depict actual lovers are given an X, they could not answer.

When I asked why Shortbus, which features, among other things, an actor masturbating and then ejaculating on his face was given an R, while our film, which explore sexual pleasure inside the context of committed loving relationships, they could not answer.

When I asked why numerous videos from the Sinclair Institute, which feature various sex acts performed by paid models, and presented under the guise of education are given R , while our films, which are held in the libraries of The Kinsey Institute at the University of Indiana, Planned Parenthood, The Gay Mens Health Crisis, The San Francisco Sex Information Hotline and many other health and education organizations are given an X, they could not answer.

They have told me the process is subjective and imperfect, yet this process has a "perfect" track record of marginalizing my films.

Now they would ask that I once again submit my work to this subjective and imperfect process, pay $1,000 for the privilege of doing so, against the hope that the fifth time's the charm.

Writing about "Ashley and Kisha" Australian Film critic Megan Spencer said, "The sweetest thing - Kisha & Ashley is one of the sweetest love stories you're ever likely to see committed to film. The Comstocks once again put their perfect documentary formula to good use - true love and real sex - on screen; what's not to like?!"

True love and real sex, what's not to like indeed?

Obviously the OFLC has no problem with real sex. It has granted its R classification to 9 Songs, Shortbus, and many other videos containing real sex. It has granted a festival exemption to Destricted, which contains real sex.

One can only conclude that the problem the OFLC has is with true love, and what a pity that is; for this film, for the people who wanted to see it, and for Australia.

It's worth noting that the OFLC representative I spoke with was just as beside himself as I was, "Until Australians educate themselves about how the OFLC works, and take a stand about what goes on here, movies like yours are going to keep falling through the cracks."

I guess that's nice to hear, but it would have been nicer if the screening of "Ashley and Kisha" could have gone ahead as scheduled.

It's also worth noting that the director of the OFLC, Donald McDonald, would not come to the phone. I'm told he thought it was "inappropriate" to discus his decision with me.

If you'd pass along addresses where your readers might register their dismay at this censorship by OFLC, here are some contacts:

Amy Wooding, Exemptions Officer, the person who made the decision not to grant A&K an exemption Amy.Wooding@classification.gov.au

David.Emery, Manager, Applications, Amy Wooding's director supervisor, whom I spoke with at length, and expressed his deep person disappointment over the decision. David.Emery@classification.gov.au

Donald McDonald, head of the OFLC, who refused to come to the phone. I'm told he said discussing the decision with me would be "inappropriate". Letters of complaint that are written directly to Donald McDonald are required, by law, to be included in the OFLC's annual report. The only people who ever do it are radical social conservatives, who complain about lax classification standards. Maybe we can change that. Donald.McDonald@classification.gov.au

The physical address of the OFLC is:

Classification Operations Branch
Attorney-General's Department
Locked Bag 3, Haymarket
NSW 1240
T: 02 9289 7118
F: 02 92897199

Also, perhaps you've already heard, but in addition to OutDVD being threatened by the AGs office over carrying unclassified DVDs, Hares and Hyenas also received unwelcome visitors from the AG's office and was "asked" to remove similar material from their website and store.

Lastly, you should know that thousands of unclassified Bollywood and Kung Fu titles are readily available in Australia, with no efforts made to prevent their sale. The laws, which apply to all unclassified DVDs are always applied to DVDs that have a sexual context. Sometime that context is explicit, such as "Ashley and Kisha", but more often it is merely the sexual orientation of the audience to whom the titles appeal.

Thanks for your support. I don't know that this a fight we can win, but I know it's a fight that's worth fighting!

Yours very sincerely,
Tony Comstock

 

 

The OFLC, MUFF, and Tony Comstock Respond

Lesbian film banned.
mcv.e-p.net.au, September 27, 2007

President of MUFF, Richard Wolstencroft, told MCV, “It’s ridiculous. We‘ve already had police presence at the festival this year to make sure we aren’t playing anything illegal, but it doesn’t make sense to ban X rated films from small film festivals when you can buy them from any adult shop in the State. They need to make the rule universal.”

Spokesperson for the OFLC, Nick Perrett said, “A film does not have to be viewed to get an X rating, and in this case the filmmaker’s previous films were rated X; and therefore we assume from the information we have that this film would not be suitable for public viewing.”

 

Comments on article

Hello, Tony Comstock here.

First, thanks so much for your coverage of this issue. There is within me, a certain discomfort with persuing this as vigorously as I have. I am not an Australian, and my only standing is as an artist who only wants that those who wish to see my work are able. Your support makes me believe my concern is not misplaced.

Secondly, a minor correction. The Larry Clark film that was Refused Classification was "Ken Park".

Lastly, given the well-publized content of DESTRICTED, which is screening publicly with the blessing of the same office and officers that declined a festival exemption for "Ashley and Kisha", it's hard not to infer that their is something sinister at work in the Office of Film and Literature Classification with respect to my work.

By way of explanation, David Emory of the OFLC has offered that he disaggrees with the OFLC's decissions, both this year with "Ashley and Kisha" and last year with "Damon and Hunter" at queerDOC, but that the process is "imperfect."

Given that on the five occasions my film have encountered this "imperfect" process, and in each instance it has managed to make it impossible for my films to play before an audience of adult, it strains crudulity to believe that what's at work here is merely an "imperfect process".

Even if that were the case, why have no steps been taken to correct this "imperfect process" so that serious, thoughtful, beautiful, and joyous films exploring and celebrating sexuality can be viewed by adults in the venues in which they wish to view them?

Respectfully, Tony Comstock

 

 

ASHLEY AND KISHA wins MUFF Award

MUFF Press Release
October 1st 2007
MUFF 8 Winners!

Announced at Closing Night Sunday 30 September at F-Four Nightclub.

You will notice that 70K and Ashley and Kisha have been given awards. Though these films did not screen at MUFF due to the ban from the OFLC the jury saw them and were so impressed as to present them with awards.

Thanks you to all entrants and winners especially the stand out MUFF Neu films A Nocturne, Left Ear, Black Water, Taber Corn, Garth Goes Hitch Hiking and Moonlight and Magic and great shorts Forged and The Interrogation Of Bryan – MUFF Festival Director Richard Wolstencroft

Best Gratuitous Use of Sex Ashley and Kisha

Best Foreign Film Ashley and Kisha Director: Tony Comstock

Best Foreign Director Tony Comstock

That’s it for MUFF 8! Ciao.

 

 

Director Tony Comstock Responds #3

ASHLEY AND KISHA Ban Provokes Censorship Discussion in Australia
www.comstockfilms.com/blog/tony, October 8, 2007

The OFLC can’t stop thousands of unclassified DVDs from being sold illegally throughout Australia, but they did manage to stop the Melbourne Underground Film Festival from screening ASHLEY AND KISHA: FINDING THE RIGHT FIT in front of an audience of movie lovers at a small cinema in the Fitzroy district of Melbourne, (just to be sure, the OFLC sent a police detail to the theater the night of the screening.) The OFLC’s refusal to grant ASHLEY AND KISHA an exemption to play at MUFF comes right on the heels of “special attention” being paid to a number of gay and lesbian book and DVD stores in Melbourne. For some reason, the OFLC seems to take a special interest in what Australia’s G&L is watching on DVD.

If any good has come out of this whole mess, it’s that after years of silence, the topic of censorship is making headlines in Australia again.

 

 

ASHLEY AND KISHA: Complaints to the OFLC

The Annual Report of the OFLC documented the complaints received regarding ASHLEY AND KISHA: FINDING THE RIGHT FIT.

Classification Board Annual Report 2007-08
Other decisions
Exemptions to show unclassified films

The Film Festival guidelines provide that the Director will not grant an exemption for an unclassified film likely to be classified X 18+. The Director refused to grant an exemption for Ashley and Kisha: Finding the Right Fit to be screened at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival on the ground that it would likely be classified X 18+.

Classification Board Annual Report 2007-08
Complaints
Exemptions to show unclassified films

Two complaints were in response to the Director's decision to refuse classification exemption for Ashley and Kisha: Finding the Right Fit to be screened at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival.

 

 

2008: Banned from Melbourne's Sexy International Film Festival

In 2008, Melbourne's Sexy International Film Festival attempted to screen a Tony Comstock double-bill of ASHLEY AND KISHA: FINDING THE RIGHT FIT and XANA AND DAX: WHEN OPPOSITES ATTRACT.

Both were refused a film festival exemption. In their Annual Report the Australian censors explained why.

 

Other Decisions
Exemptions to show unclassified films
Annual Report 2008-2009

The Director also refused to exempt two films as part of the Sexy International Film Festival. One of the films was refused exemption as it was likely to be classified X 18+ and the other film was refused exemption as it was previously classified X 18+ by the Classification Board.

 

XANA AND DAX had been passed with an X18+ (Explicit sex) rating in July 2005, and ASHLEY AND KISHA was the film that they felt would be likely classified X18+.

 

 

Film Festival Censorship in Australia

These are films that had problems screening at Film Festivals in Australia. All are covered in our Film Censorship Database.


 

 

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