DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER was passed with an X18+ (Explicit Sex) rating in May 2006. The applicant was Wilful Damage films.
On July 11th 2006, DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER was screened at the 7th Melbourne Underground Film Festival.
DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER Dir. Tony Comstock | 2006 | USA | 46 mins | Documentary
Damon and Hunter” is a frank, humane and erotic exploration of the sexual and emotional relationship between longtime lovers Damon Demarco and Hunter James. The film offers a candid look at the central role that sex plays in the relationship between these two men. Forget Brokeback Mountain, if you want gay sex, check this out.
Screens with PORNSTAR PETS. Q & A with
Tuesday 11 July 9pm | Glitch
A Criminal Intent to Arouse
comstockfilms.com/blog/tony, July 11, 2006
Right now several dozen people are sitting together in the dark in a small theater in the Fitzroy district of Melbourne Australia. Along with the theater owners and the MUFF festival organizers they are about to become party to a crime. They are about to be party to the public exhibtion of Damon and Hunter: Doing it Together, a sexually explicit film that has been officially rated X by the Australian government. Because it is X-rated, it is illegal to present Damon and Hunter publicly, even to a theater full of adults who know exactly what they’ve come to see. Because it is X-rated, it’s even illegal to sell Damon and Hunter in many parts of Australia.
We could have challenged this rating (as 9 Songs did), but it’s rather costly (about $8,000) with no certainty of success – too much for a small studio like Comstock Films. So our lovely little film about love and sex goes into the world as a bit of a pariah, a scarlet letter X emblazened on its chest.
DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER went on to be awarded Best Documentary at the 7th Melbourne Underground Film Festival.
MUFF 7: The Wrap Up
Sorry this email is a little late wrapping up MUFF 7 we have been busy resting and regrouping following our wildest and most successful festival yet. News, awards, gossip and wrap ups to follow. And special thanks here to the marvellous Lloyd Kaufman our main International Guest who everyone loved and to the inspiration he provided to many. Read on…
MUFF 7 Awards: Winners are Sinners
The infamous MUFF7 awards went off as judged by Alex Spalck of Pankow and jury, presented by Alex (wearing famed eye liner and all) and RW on Closing Night. Congrats from the MUFF team to all the winners, especially to Jon Hewitt, Stefan Popescu, Bill Mousoulis, Frank Howson, Stuart Simpson and Chris Folino.
MUFF 777 AWARDS
BEST DOCUMENTARY (Tie)
Damon and Hunter: Doing it Together Dir: Tony Comstock
Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea Dir: Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer
The public screening of DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival was not strictly legal because it had already been rated X18+. Queer Screen soon found this out when they programmed the film as part of the 2006 Sydney queerDOC festival.
Tuesday September 12, 7pm Wednesday September 13, 9pm DENDY NEWTOWN
EYEFUL OF GUYS DOUBLE BILL
EYE ON THE GUY: ALAN B. STONE AND THE AGE OF BEEFCAKE
Dir. Philip Lewis & Jean-Francois Monette, Canada, 2006, 48 min
DAMON & HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER
Dir. Tony Comstock, USA, 2006, 46 min
This double bill boldly illustrates the changes that have occurred in portrayals of sex, nudity and homosexuality in the last forty years. Damon And Hunter is a frank and erotic exploration of the sexual and emotional relationship between longtime lovers Damon Demarco and Hunter James. They invite us into their bedroom for a candid look at the central role that sex plays in their relationship as lovers, partners and professional porn stars.
Eye On The Guy takes us back to a more innocent era. A tribute to the artwork and life of Alan B. Stone who became immersed in the Montreal body building scene, catapulting his career as a photographer of well-built, good looking young men in mail-order physique (read: gay) magazines during the 50s and 60s.
This session is so certain to sell out it’s screening twice.
DAMON AND HUNTER: The Film the Australian Government Doesn’t
Want You to See
comstockfilms.com/blog/tony, August 20, 2006
We’ve been especially please with the reception DAMON AND HUNTER has received in Australia. It’s been covered in a number of magazines and newspapers, including DNA, The Melbourne Star, B-News, MCV, and QMagazine.
In July it played to an overflow audience at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival, and went on to be named Best Documentary at the fest. From there we were invited to show the film at QueerDOC, the world’s premiere gay and lesbian documentary film festival, in Sydney this September. All great news, with lots of thank you notes to write, journalist to talk to, and of course, boxes of DVDs to send to Australia.
Then late last week, the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification dropped the hammer on DAMON AND HUNTER.
On the 15th, QueerDOC received notification from the OFLC that screening D&H would be a violation of Section 8 of the 2004 Film Festival Guidelines. That’s right, in Australia the government can tell you what you can and can’t show at a film festival.
What will happen now, I don’t know. The festival has already distributed nearly 50,000 copies of the program, including two screenings of DAMON AND HUNTER (which the festival expected would sell out). We’ve already printed up hundreds of posters and flyers and made arrangements to have them distributed throughout Sydney. The festival is currently in negotiations with the OFLC to see if they can show DAMON AND HUNTER in some sort of edited form, and we’re trying to make an appeal of the ratings. (Winterbottom’s 9 SONGS, a film that featured explicit footage of straight sex received a reduced rating from the OFLC. But without the major distributor backing of a film like 9 SONGS, and the very short notice, I’m doubtful our appeal will be successful.) If I were a betting man, I’d bet that Sydney is not going to get the chance to see the film that Melbourne enjoyed so very much.
And then there is still the question of what might happen to the organizers of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival and the owners of the venue that had the audacity to show DAMON AND HUNTER on not one, but two screens. Each violation of Section 8 is punishable by a year in jail and a $20,000 fine. Perhaps I felt a bit histrionic when I said that MUFF and Glitch were doing something courageous by showing DAMON AND HUNTER, but I don’t feel histrionic now.
Of all the films the OFLC might target for censorship, DAMON AND HUNTER seems like a particularly inappropriate choice. Aside from the recognition the film has so far received as an outstanding work of cinema, it’s also been recognized for it’s value as a life-affirming and educational document. DAMON AND HUNTER is held in the Kinsey Library at the world renowned Kinsey Institute at the University of Indiana. It’s already being used by the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York, and by the San Francisco Sex Information Hotline. Just this week it’s been being passed around by deligates at the 16th Annual World AIDS Conference in Toronto Cananda. Why? Because DAMON AND HUNTER is singular in it’s compassionate, humane, frank, and erotic depiction of gay love and gay sex.
And apparently that’s something that the government of Australia needs to keep the people of Sydney, especially the gay men of Sydney, from seeing.
Removed by Order of the Australian Office of Film and
comstockfilms.com/blog/tony, August 23, 2006
I have just finished butchering a re-edit of DAMON AND HUNTER to remove all the the material the OFLC finds objectionable — no erect penises, not touching of each other’s flacid penises, and no butt cracks. I’m cooking it into a .m4v file and will post it to the blog when it’s finished.
In the meantime, yesterday an Australian journalist asked me if I had an “offical reaction” to the OFLC decission.
I have been a photographer my entire adult life. In the name of bearing witness to the human condition I’ve documented unspeakable suffering, violence, and death; and for that I’ve been praised as a courageous witness. When I review the scope of people, places and events that have passed before my lens, I find myself unable to understand the censor’s rational for “protecting” adults from photographic images of sexuality. But allowing that I could be wrong about that, certainly adults don’t need to be protected from a film like DAMON AND HUNTER. DAMON AND HUNTERR is a film about what’s best in all of us.
I also don’t understand, in a country where the rules governing X-rated material are honored mostly in the breach, that the government has decided to put its foot down at an event like QueerDOC. It smacks of misplaced priorities and selective enforcement.
DAMON AND HUNTER seems caught in the gap between shabbily crafted video porn and “serious films” about sex like 9 SONGS or KEN PARK. I find the attitudes expressed about sex and the moving image in both of these approaches off-putting, or worse, dull, which I why I (try) to make earnest, well-crafted films about what a delightful part of life sex is for most people most of the time. I just don’t think the rules governing the OFLC ever anticipated a film like DAMON AND HUNTER, which although it’s completely explicit, arousing and erotic, is also completely joyful, and utterly appropriate for adults to enjoy watching in a cinema.
The film is an affirmation that physical love is a wonderful and wholesome part of our humanity. The need and desire to connect with another person in profoundly physical and intimate way is something we all easily recognize as one of the great gifts of being alive, and there’s something special about coming together as an audience, in a theater, and acknowledging and celebrating the innate goodness of our sexual nature.
The classification of DAMON AND HUNTER as X-rated (as our other films have also been classified by the OFLC) prevents these film from being seen as they were intended: in a theater where the power of the cinema can transform a house full of strangers into an audience. There is something magical about being in the dark, with a bunch of people you don’t know, all responding as one to the film. It’s amplifying and affirming of one’s own emotions. In the case of DAMON AND HUNTER I think there’s a good chance the wound is that much deeper because this film is a celebration of physical love between two men, and there are so very few examples in cinema of authentic gay sex being documented, let alone celebrated.
I’ve just found out directly from the OFLC that because of the film’s X-rating if an Australian gay mens health center were to use DAMON AND HUNTER in the same way it’s being used here in the states by the San Francisco Sex Information Hotline and the Institute for Gay Men’s Health at GMHC, that the health center would be breaking the law. Unbelievable!
We have retained counsel and are currently acting with all possible speed to try and appeal the OFLC’s ruling and have DAMON AND HUNTER reclassified as R. But the catch 22 of the X rating is that it denies a film the revenues to be garnered by the wider distribution allowed R-rated films. Comstock Films is an completely independent operation. My wife and I finance our films independently, produce them independently, and distribute them independently. We don’t have the resources of time and money to battle the Australian government. The appeal itself costs $8,000, and if the OFLC denies our request for a waver, there won’t be much we can do. We’re exploring the idea of selling a “special edition” fundraising DVD at a premium price to finance the appeal, with the windfall donated to charity if the OFLC were to wave the fee, but the time table for organizing is tight.
What we do have is a lovely film, a film that can be defended both on principal *and* it’s merits as entertainment, a film an “ordinary Australian” doesn’t have to feel embarrassed about owning, watching, or speaking on behalf of. Perhaps that will count for something.
DAMON AND HUNTER: As Censored by the OFLC
comstockfilms.com/blog, August 23, 2006
We’ve re-cut DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER as specificed by the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification, and we are offering it for free online viewing.
The Director of Doco Damon and Hunter Explains his
frustration at having it banned
starobserver.com.au, August 24, 2006
Director Tony Comstock can’t understand why the Australian censors would want to ban his documentary Damon And Hunter: Doing It Together from appearing in Queer Screen’s queerDOC festival.
Sure, it features explicit shots of two men having anal sex, oral sex and masturbating. But, Comstock argues, it’s sex between a real couple.
“Typically the kind of films that get banned in Australia are very dark. Films like Ken Park and Baise-moi. Films that are not nice,” Comstock told Sydney Star Observer from his home in New York.
“That’s one reason I make these films. I want to show you can make a very serious film about sex that’s nice, and doesn’t have to include some father giving his son a blowjob.
“I don’t want to see that. There’s enough ugliness in the world. I want to make films about sex that are genuinely grown-up.”
Other documentaries he’s made which featured violence and death had received positive responses, he said, yet showing “two people who love each other making love, which is an incredible part of being a human being … and we’re fucking criminal”.
The two stars of Damon And Hunter had previously appeared in porn movies and understood what Comstock was trying to achieve “from the get-go”.
“They were sophisticated and charming and intelligent and very good-looking. More importantly they did all those little things that show they care about each other in the interview. The way they interrupted each other with a hand on the shoulder, or on the leg,” he said.
“It’s that interview that creates the characters and it’s their relationship that creates the plot of the film.”
Censor May Lift Doco Ban
starobserver.com.au, August 24, 2006
Queer Screen had hoped a re-edited version of the film, which featured less explicit sex, would get an exemption for a one-off screening.
However, this week the OFLC insisted all explicit content had to be removed for it to be shown.
A new cut of the film, to be edited by the documentary’s New York-based director Tony Comstock this week, will be shown to the OFLC for approval.
As queerDOC begins in just two weeks, on 7 September, the censors have told Queer Screen they will be making their decision within 48 hours of receiving the film.
Su Goldfish, vice president of Queer Screen, said she didn’t think the OFLC’s decision was discriminatory.
“In this context we feel they’re not being unfair and that it’s responsible to listen to their requests,” she said.
Queer Screen’s festival manager, Lex Lindsay, said while the re-edit would be radically different to the original he hoped audiences would still be able to “get a taste of it”.
“We hope we won’t lose the integrity of the documentary,” Lindsay said.
Last month Damon And Hunter was screened at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF) where it was named best documentary.
MUFF director Richard Wolstencroft refused to comment on whether he’d been in contact with the OFLC about the screening. But he did say he was “shocked” by the decision to ban the original from being shown and, unlike Goldfish, thought it was discrimination.
“The film is a sensitive, honest and sensual exploration of male homosexuality,” he said.
“This censorship is further evidence of the subversive war being carried out by certain members of our government against gays and lesbians in our community.”
Wolstencraft encouraged Sydney’s queer community to protest by playing the film at a secret venue in “a much needed act of civil disobedience”.
Damon and Hunter Controversy
The queer press have picked up on the controversy surrounding our scheduled screening of DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER as part of queerDOC 06.
The film, which includes footage of these long term partners having sex in the privacy of their own home (well, private except for the cameras), has received an X rating from the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification. The OFLC guidelines prohibit the exhibition of X rated material in a public setting, so essentially, for want of a better term, our screening has been banned.
We are still selling tickets to this session however. It screens with a delightful doco called EYE ON THE GUY which will make it to the big screen regardless. As for DAMON AND HUNTER, we are working closely with the OFLC on a compromise, whereby an edited, less explicit version of the film may be screened as part of this session.
Curiouser and Curiouser: OFLC Requests Permission to Use DAMON
AND HUNTER for Training Purposes
comstockfilms.com/blog/tony, August 28, 2006
In a recent post to the Without A Box forums I said that dealing with the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification was something of a cross between Alice in Wonderland and Kafka’s The Castle.
But on Friday, after a nearly two hour long phone call wher in we tried to get an explination as to why some sexually explicit films, such as 9 SONGS and NEW SEX POSITIONS, VOLUME 2 receive R-ratings, while DAMON AND HUNTER gets an X-rating, and can’t even get an exemption for a one-off screening at a Gay and Lesbian Documentary festival (”The OFLC is aware we’re discussing an award-winning documentary film, right?”), things took a turn for the truly bizzare.
Moments after hanging up the phone, we received, by post, a request from the OFLC to retain our film for use in their Classification Training Workshops.
No, I’m not kidding. The OFLC would like permission to lift 3-4 minute segments to be used on training members of the film, television and videogame industry about the classification process.
As you try to wrap your brain around this, please keep in mind that only two days before the OFLC informed us that if an Australian counterpart to The Institute for Gay Men’s Health or The San Francisco Sex Information Hotline were to use DAMON AND HUNTER with their clients, or merely kept the DVD on their library shelves, they would be subject to fine and jail time.
The mind reels.
Meanwhile, the butchered re-edited version of DAMON AND HUNTER, per the OFLC’s instructions has been submitted to the OFLC with the promise that we’ll have an answer within 48 hours as to whether or not they will allow queerDOC to screen the censored version. The entire 46 minutes, censored version can be viewed online here:
DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT FOR THE OFLC
Defaming the OFLC?!?
comstockfilms.com/blog/tony, August 29, 2006
Censors Classifiers at the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification have reviewed DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT FOR THE OFLC online, and although they not issued an official ruling, they have said that the objectionable sexual content has been removed to their satisfaction.
But they have also expressed concern that the replacement of the objectionable footage text reading Footage Removed by Order of the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification is “defamatory to the OFLC.”
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines “defame” in the following ways:
1 archaic : DISGRACE 2 : to harm the reputation of by libel or slander 3 archaic : ACCUSE
The position of the OFLC is that they have not ordered the removal of the objectionable sexual material from DAMOM AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER, they are merely enforcing the law; that we have not been compelled by the OFLC to remove the footage, but have done so voluntarily.
This “concern” about defaming the OFLC seems disingenuous on their part. The law they say they’re “merely enforcing” clearly gives them the discretion to give DAMON AND HUNTER an R-rating, or to allow an exemption for a film festival screening, or both.
The OFLC both interprets and enforces the law. The OFLC can, if they choose, strip a film festival of it’s right to operate. The OFLC can also exert more subtle, insidious pressure. For example, they can tighten the exemptions they give for films from outside of Australian that a festival wishes to show. That’s right, all foreign films shown at Australian Festivals must be give a waiver by the OFLC before they can be shown.
Certainly in making this stink, Comstock Films has lost all hope of any of our future films being given anything other than an X-rating, but the OFLC also has the option of “Refused Classification” on our future submissions – which is nothing less than a total ban on distributing them in any form in any part of Australia.
Of course I am frustrated at not being able to show my film, the way I intended it to be seen to a group of adults who want to see it. I contemplated taping a brief “Director’s Statement” that could be shown immediately ahead of DAMON AND HUNTER to explain to the audience how and why the film had been altered, but putting that statement on the screen in a theater puts it under the jurisdiction of the OFLC; the Director’s Statement would need a waiver to be shown, and I can’t image the OFLC wouldn’t have “concerns” that my statement was “defamatory to the OFLC.” This is beginning to feel like a fight I can’t win.
On top of all of that, from the start I have been concerned with how raising a ruckus might effect our dealings with the OFLC on future films. We don’t make money showing films at film festivals, we make money by selling DVDs, and we can’t do that without submitting our films to the OFLC for “classification”. Moreover, the OFLC’s X-rating already means it’s illegal to sell DAMON AND HUNTER in most of Australia. What if they decide to give our DVD sales the same special attention they’ve given the QueerDOC screening?
I am weary. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since this mess started. I’ve got a beautiful film MATT AND KHYM that needs to be finished. The Summer is winding down and it won’t be long before it’s too cold to swim and sail with my girls. Maybe enough’s enough. It’s not my country, and It’s not my fight. Maybe it’s time to leave Australia to the Australians.
Maybe it’s time for me to move on.
Will DAMON AND HUNTER play at QueerDOC?
comstockfilms.com/blog/tony, August 30, 2006
It has been a tumultuous and stressful couple of of weeks here at Comstock Films. The thrill we felt at the prospect of DAMON AND HUNTER playing in front of a large audience in a real movie house has given way to (at various times) doubt, despair, and anger; sometimes all three at once. In the upset of it all, I sort of lost sight of why I make these films.
I make these films, because I believe depictions of truly joyous and wholesome sex, depictions that represent the overwhelmingly positive and important role that our sexuality plays in our humanity are all but absent from the cinematic landscape. Moreover, in an age where it is easier than ever to see sexually explicit imagery, it is harder than ever to find imagery that reflects the common reality of sex: that sex is nice; that sex is normal; that sex is good.
The day after the sold out Melbourne screenings, when QueerScreen got in touch with us and asked if they could screen DAMON AND HUNTER at their upcoming queerDOC festival, we were thrilled and honored by their interest in the film. The success in Melbourne hinted at it, and the invitation to QueerDOC seemed to confirm that I had finally created a film that transcended its explicit sexual content without giving up its erotic power in the bargain, a film that people could be proud to fight for in the face of the repressive laws and regressive attitudes that can make it so hard to make these films.
When QueerScreen asked to show DAMON AND HUNTER, they knew what kind of film it was, and exactly what the rules were regarding screening an X-rated film in Australia. If they had any hesitation about screening the film in it’s entirety, that should have been addressed at the time. That could have given me the time to consider if and how I might alter DAMON AND HUNTER so that it could be screened legally.
Instead, Comstock Films has, under the pressure of eleventh hour circumstances, been made to be the advocate for this screening on QueerDOCs behalf. Through each stage of this tumult, salaried bureaucrats have offered vague and conflicting advice on how the film might be altered to gain OFLC approval. Each iteration of changes costs Comstock Films in time, money, and aggravation.
What have we got for our trouble? 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.
Ten years ago, when I started making these films, it was with the idea that I was going to make films about sex that I wanted to make, films that I wanted to see; not the films I thought would sell, and certainly not the films I thought would get by the censors.
DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER represents ten years of risk, sacrifice, and uncompromising work to achieve that vision. The organizers of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival felt that the film was worth putting themselves at risk to show their audience. The DVD is available at retailers throughout Australia who believe it is worth defying the law to make this film available to customers, including retailers that stock no other X-rated DVDs. Between M.U.F.F. and QueerDOC programers,more than 30 years of festival programing experience says that DAMON AND HUNTER is a film that deserves to be seen – in a theater, by an audience.
We’ve already done all we can do in an attempt to produce a version of DAMON AND HUNTER that QueerDOC feels it can screen, and in so doing, we’ve cut the very heart out of this film. DAMON AND HUNTER is a film about sex, and about the simple truth that sex is one of the most beautiful and important things that two people can do together. It’s too much. We’ve worked to hard for too long to make these films the way they need to be made, to now bend over backwards, and spend time and money we don’t have, all for the chance to show an eviserated version of our film to a few hundred people in Sydney.
I have been a photographer my entire adult life. In the name of bearing witness to the human condition I’ve documented unspeakable suffering, violence, and death; and for that I’ve been praised as a courageous witness. When I review the scope of people, places and events that have passed before my lens, I find myself unable to understand the censor’s rational for “protecting” adults from photographic images of sexuality. But allowing that I could be wrong about that, certainly adults don’t need to be protected from a film like DAMON AND HUNTER . DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER is a film about what’s best in all of us.
DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER is a film about sex. It’s a film made to be seen by grownups who want to see it. It has sex in it – lots of it. Whether or not DAMON AND HUNTER seen at QueerDOC is up to them.
Is it all worth it?
comstockfilms.com/blog/tony, September 1, 2006
I woke up this morning to find out that queerDOC has replaced one of the DAMON AND HUNTER screenings with a BBC miniseries. There’s still one on the queerDOC schedule, but I don’t hold out much hope that that screening will take place either.
I’ve been downcast about it all day long, my mood not helped by the grey and windy weather. Then this, from an Australian customer who we had to help through our store’s admitted confusing interface for international orders:
Many thanks for your very welcome email. The film “Damon and Hunter” was very professionally and sensitively done, the quality superb and great credit must be given to Damon and Hunter for their courage in sharing they way they did. It is such an educational film, in a no nonsense way, and with honesty. While different people may view it in different ways and on differing levels, it is special. Well done.
Good Bless, John
This whole adventure has made me reflect on why I make these films; films that can’t be sold here or there, or won’t be screened here or there, films that could get me or other people in trouble for selling. It’s not the first time I’ve wondered whether or not it’s all worth it, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. I’ve got some more thoughts on that, which I will be posting later.
In the mean while, I will say that while John’s note doesn’t make the hurt I’m feeling go away, it helps, and I’m sure I’ll remember this note from John long after I’ve forgotten what does or doesn’t happen in Sydney this month.
An Open Letter Regarding the Cancelled QueerDOC Screening of
DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER
comstockfilms.com/blog/tony, September 8, 2006
My name is Tony Comstock. I am an American filmmaker, and the director of the documentary DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER, a film that explores a gay relationship with an unusual level of candor, sentiment, and sensuality.
Last July it was my privilege and honor to be invited to show DAMON AND HUNTER at Queer Screen’s 2006 queerDOC festival. Unfortunately, in mid-August, the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) denied Queer Screen’s request for a festival exemption to show the film.
Since the decision, there has been some speculation that the OFLC might grant an exemption to an altered version of DAMON AND HUNTER, and that this altered version might be screened at queerDOC. This is not to be. On August 31 I informed Queer Screen that I could not alter the film to meet the OFLC’s demands.
As there are already people who have purchased tickets to see DAMON AND HUNTER at queerDOC, I thought an explanation of my reasons was in order.
First, I would like to thank David Pearce, film programmer for Queer Screen for putting his professional reputation on the line by selecting DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER, and I would like to thank Lex Lindsay, Queer Screen’s manager, for putting his festival on the line to fight for his fellow Australians’ right to see this film. Making a film means nothing if people cannot see it, and I am ever grateful to David, Lex, and the Queer Screen organization for their efforts to try and put this film on a screen, in a cinema, so that it could be experienced by each viewer as a part of an audience. There is something magical about being in the dark, with a group of people you’ve never met before, responding to the film as one. It’s amplifying and affirming to your own emotions, and it’s a shame that people in Sydney have been denied the opportunity to experience DAMON AND HUNTER in this way.
Conversely, I am deeply disappointed by the OFLC’s refusal to grant an exemption for DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER to play at queerDOC, which is the world’s only film festival devoted to gay and lesbian documentary films. Through their actions, the OFLC has needlessly inflicted financial hardship on an already under-staffed and under-funded organization, and has almost certainly ensured that this film will never legally be seen in a legitimate venue in Australia.
The OFLC’s X-rating of DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER means the film cannot legally be screened publicly anywhere, save a video peep booth in Canberra. The OFLC’s X-rating means the DVD cannot legally be used by gay men’s health organizations (as is already being done here in the US). The OFLC’s X-rating means the DVD cannot legally be sold in Western Australia, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, or New South Wales. And of course the OFLC’s denial of an exemption means a film festival cannot legally screen DAMON AND HUNTER. This is nothing short of a ban. For the OFLC to suggest that it is anything else is disingenuous at best.
By statute, the OFLC holds, and has exercised in the past, wide discretion in the ratings applied to sexually explicit material, and in the granting of festival exemptions. In this instance, for reasons known only to them, they’ve chosen to hide behind the letter of the law, rather than honor the legislative intent, which is their ultimate charter. I would offer that their decisions, in particular their refusal to grant a festival exemption to for the queerDOC screening is heavy-handed, serves no legitimate purpose in maintaining civil order, and is wildly disconnected with the wishes of the vast majority of Australian people.
Since the film’s release, I’ve been overwhelmed and delighted by the enthusiastic response Australians have given DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER. The film has received good reviews, festival laurels, and a warm audience response, all of which confirms my own experience and belief that Australians and Australian society are tolerant and progressive. I’d venture if you asked 100 Australians if an audience of adults, mostly gay men, should be denied the chance to watch a film that celebrates the very essence of what it means to be gay, the overwhelming majority of them would be horrified at the thought. They’d probably go on to say “Thank goodness we don’t do things like that here in Australia!” That’s the insidious thing about censorship; unless it’s done with a thick black marker, most people never realize it’s happened.
There has been some suggestion that an accommodation with the OFLC might have been reached, that the film could have been shown with the sexual content removed, while preserving the artistic and political intent of the film. Indeed, in the past weeks I have spent many hours and thousands of dollars in an attempt to re-cut the film in accordance with the OFLC’s instructions. But in the end I could not reconcile my reasons for making this film with the demands made by the OFLC.
I made this film because I believe depictions of truly joyous and wholesome sex, depictions that represent the overwhelmingly positive and important role that our sexuality plays in our humanity, are all but absent from the cinematic landscape. Moreover, in an age where it is easier than ever to see sexually explicit imagery, it is harder than ever to find imagery that reflects the common reality of sex: that sex is nice; that sex is normal; that sex is good. I made this film because even today, here in America, in Australia, and elsewhere, the state’s role in the most intimate aspects of the lives of its citizens remains an open question.
To show DAMON AND HUNTER as demanded by Australian censorship laws, with all of the sex obliterated would have been to cut out the very heart and soul of this film. It would be a disservice to every person who came to the screening in the hope of seeing a film that would acknowledge their sexuality as something wholesome and noble. To show this film with the sex obliterated is to lend weight to the still pervasive and profound belief that there is something shameful about the giving and receiving of sexual pleasure. To do so under government threat would be to capitulate to everything that I have struggled against, and would acknowledge that the state has ultimate dominion over our minds and our bodies. To do so would be to concede to values regarding freedom and human dignity I find alien and repugnant.
I have been a photographer my entire adult life. In the name of bearing witness to the human condition I’ve documented unspeakable suffering, violence, and death; and for that I’ve been praised as a courageous witness. When I review the scope of people, places and events that have passed before my lens, I am unable to comprehend the censor’s rational for “protecting” adults from photographic images of sexuality. Adults have the capacity and the right to choose for themselves what sort of images they wish to see. They do not need to be protected from images of sex, and least of all from a film like DAMON AND HUNTER. In the face of horrific images we are exposed to each and every day, the OFLC decision is not only unfair, it is perverse.
DAMON AND HUNTER is a film about the joy love and sex brings into our lives. DAMON AND HUNTER is about our manifest right as adults to experience that joy, regardless of whom or how we love. DAMON AND HUNTER is about the dignity we find when we are true to ourselves in the face of adversity and oppression. DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER is a film about what’s best in all of us.
Very sincerely, Tony Comstock
In his August 30 2006 blog post, Tony Comstock 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.
This was to come true in 2007 when Tony Comstock's follow up ASHLEY AND KISHA: FINDING THE RIGHT FIT was prevented from screening at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival. See our separate database entry for more information.
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. It was abandoned after both were refused a film festival exemption.