IN THEIR ROOM: BERLIN was programmed to screen on February 24, at Sydney's 2012 Mardi Gras Film Festival.
The following film from Travis Mathews was I WANT YOUR LOVE (2012). In February 2013, this was also refused film festival exemption by Classification Board.
In early February, the Sydney Morning Herald published an article claiming that four 'gay sex movies' would be screening at the Mardi Gras Film Festival.
Mardi Gras applies to screen gay sex movies
smh.com.au, February 5, 2012
Despite the law prohibiting the public screening of X-rated films in NSW, the festival's director, Lex Lindsay, said: ''We are confident the classification board will be satisfied with our rationale for screening these works … and that the content in each of these works, whilst being sexually explicit, is of a nature and artistic standard suitable for public screenings to a group of educated and interested adults.''
Two of the films, Homme au bain (Man at Bath) and Sagat, feature penetrative sex between men, and In Their Room: Berlin depicts a casual sex encounter during which the actors perform oral sex. Community Action Centre contains frequent sex scenes between transgender individuals, which Mr Lindsay suggested in a submission to the classification board could lead to a possible X-rating.
A spokesman for the board, Brian Kent, said organisers of film festivals wishing to screen unclassified films in the festival must apply for an exemption. ''If it is likely that an unclassified film will be X18+ or Refused Classification, the exemption will not be granted,'' he said. The board does not automatically view films in a festival but relies on festival organisers providing information about any contentious material they plan to screen.
Mr Lindsay admitted the sexually explicit content of the films was on the ''very cutting edge'' of what would be considered acceptable.
Lex Lindsay, the Director of the Mardi Gras Film Festival, was unhappy with the Sydney Morning Herald article. The following day he responded on the Queer Screen Facebook page.
A letter to my audience after reading a disappointing article
facebook.com/pages/Queer-Screen-Mardi-Gras-Film-Festival, February 6, 2012
Hello Queer Screen Clan.
I don't know how many of you spotted this article in Sunday's paper, but I did and I am disappointed. So I'm thinking, rather than just feel hard-done-by and disillusioned with the inflammatory nature of mainstream Australian journalism, I might just write to you and share my thoughts on this.
I have not selected a program of "sex movies" to screen for you this festival. I don't even know what the term "sex movies" is suppose to mean, but one would guess it implies pornography and films that feature sexual content in a larger proportion than narrative, ideas, or art. We don't screen 'sex movies' because a) you're not suppose to do that, and b) we have no reason or desire to do that. Those are the kind of films that I think are probably best enjoyed in your own private scenario, and we all know you can get them anytime online, so if you are looking for that sorta film, go and enjoy them as you wish, but you know and I know, and all reasonable, sane, open-hearted individuals know - we don't screen that stuff!
Yes, it is true, I wasted half a day when I am really really busy, writing and speaking at length with Andrew Taylor of the Herald Sun about the content and context of the potentially contentious sexual material we are looking to screen in this year's festival, and they were pretty damn interesting things I had to say. None of it got printed. So I'm having a tanty. By excluding ALL of this information from his article he ultimately implies the following things:
1. That we are attempting to screen X-rated material, or material that would receive an X-rating if classified. This is absolutely baseless, reductionist and misleading. These are serious, respectable films that have screened in very reputable forums. The one film that might, maybe, just possibly go that far is an art installation that has played at the Tate Modern, so we are not talking about run-o-the-mill porn here people.
2. He risks painting us as unthinking, unsophisticated, sex-crazed degenerates, just putting sex in the cinema for the sheer naughty pleasure of it. OK, this could be an over-reaction, but after how far we have come, how hard we have worked in the past 20 years to keep this kind of misinformed judgment out of our cinema culture and show some real, genuine diversity on our screens, this article seems irresponsible to me. We are THE GOOD GUYS and the reason why we will all look back 20 years from now and not even imagine how there was once a cinema culture in which we never saw same-sex-attracted and gender-diverse individuals kissing, loving, being together.
You CANNOT discuss the nature of film classification without taking into account the content and cultural context of the work. Not if you want to be a grown up in a progressive free world. So, I'm thinking you guys might care to read some of the non-inflammitory, rational and culturally relevant things I did have to say about WHY we are screening films with a small amount of explicit sexual content in them. Here's a selection of my answers to the Herald Sun's questions...
"At this year's Mardi Gras Film Festival we are exploring the intersection between erotica and narrative story telling in queer films. This is interesting to us, as essentially, as LGBTIQ people, our bodies and the way they interact with other bodies, is the one thing that separates us from the rest of the community and is responsible for us facing discrimination, persecution, violence, and at the very least, civil restrictions through law. So as well as a pleasurable indulgence, watching queer bodies engage in real sex is always a political act. It is both a defiance of the stigmas attached to what we do behind closed doors, but also an intimate image of our sexual expression.
"The real sex presented in these titles helps deliver narratives and ideas about our community that are of great relevance right now. We are observing the pursuit for physical perfection within gay male culture, and an almost obsessive search for sexual dominance, conquests and desirability that can become emotionally damaging (in MAN AT BATH). We see sex as a casual indulgence that is at the end of your iPhone (in IN THEIR ROOM), but we also see the fragility of these almost anonymous encounters, the melancholy and loneliness they can cause. And then we see an empowering celebration of diverse bodies, transitioning bodies, gender identifications, fetish and sexual play in COMMUNITY ACTION CENTRE. This is not sex for sex's sake. These are authentic and meaningful sexual narratives that reflect realities about our community, and we are inviting our audience to engage with them, if they choose.
"Our program of over 70 films is a sophisticated blend of local and international cinema, and in our minds all of it is suitable and relevant for public consumption. We don't do violence. That isn't part of our cultural brief. And whilst, generally, we feel educated adults should be able to choose to see anything they like in a festival context - provided they've been given fair warning of the nature of the work - strong violence and gore doesn't reflect our values as a queer community event. Besides, you can go to your local cinema and see excessive violence any day of the week, how often do you get to see real queer sexuality being explored and enjoyed on screen? This is far more interesting, politically and artistically for us.
"The four films that contain, for want of a better term "real sex" in this year's festival are currently with the Classification Board being reviewed. For our festival, and most film festivals in Australia, the films we screen do not get classified. Indeed, they receive an "exemption from classification" for the purpose of a small number of screenings in association with a cultural event. We are confident the Classification Board will be satisfied with our rationale for screening these works, in the cultural context of one of the world's largest celebrations of queer cinema, and that the content in each of these works, whilst being sexually explicit, is of a nature and artistic standard suitable for public screenings to a group of educated and interested adults.
"A festival like ours will always contain some content that is on the very cutting edge of what we are considering classifiable and unclassifiable (our lives are still partially illegal, after all!) which is why we pride ourselves in an extremely open and honest relationship with the Classification Board and genuinely appreciate their respect for the values our festival reflects."
As the article suggests, the Board is still considering our application for an exemption from classification, however it doesn't mention that I voluntarily supplied them with copies of all of these films. We are not obliged to do this, only upon request, but as I know how diligent and responsible the exemptions unit of the Classification Board is, I flagged these films with them from day one and asked them to view the content so that they may make an informed decision. I would have thought it appropriate to mention this in the article. We work in collaboration and negotiation with the Classification Board, this is not an "us vs the censor" thing. Forgive me if I'm getting it wrong, but the tone of that article seems to be suggesting otherwise.
And finally, we are not Mardi Gras! WE ARE QUEER SCREEN. If we're gonna be making such bold headlines, can we please be named in them? ;-)
OK, rant over, got that off my chest now. Love to you Queer Screen peeps, and look forward to seeing you around the festival in a couple of weeks.
Lex Lindsay Mardi Gras Film Festival Director.
The Classification Board viewed the submissions, and concluded that IN THEIR ROOM: BERLIN (2011) and COMMUNITY ACTION CENTER (2010) would most likely be X-rated if they were classified. The Mardi Gras Film Festival felt that it had no choice but to drop the titles.
Technically, neither had been banned, as the X-rating is legal in the ACT and Northern Territory. If both films had passed through the classification process, been X-rated, and released on DVD in either of the Territories, then it would be legal for someone in NSW to order them. It would be illegal to publically screen or sell them. This illogical law is routinely ignored by stores in NSW.
MAN AT BATH (2010) and SAGAT (2011), the two other 'controversial' titles mention in the Sydney Morning Herald article were given the go ahead to be shown. The article had claimed they contained 'penetrative sex between men'.
Their screenings were accompanied by an advisory note of 'This film contains some explicit sexual content'.
Let's talk about sex
queerscreen.com.au, February 18, 2012
To our dear members and audience
The theme of the 2012 Mardi Gras Film Festival is Projecting The Future. Rather than beating our chests and shouting the injustices that our community has faced, this year, I wanted us to talk about our success, and I wanted us to reflect upon the hope that we all have that we are going to get there… eventually.
In projecting the future I wanted our festival to focus on brave new voices, bold new choices and where queer cinema is going to next. Unfortunately I have been reminded of how far we still have to go.
In order to screen unclassified material, all Australian film festivals must request an exemption from classification for the content they have programmed. The Classification Board have chosen to refuse this exemption for two of the titles selected for this festival. Community Action Centre and In Their Room: Berlin.
These two films contain some real sexual activity, and the Classification Board refused this exemption on the grounds that they believe, should these films undergo the classification process in Australia, they would be granted an X classification. There’s nothing wrong with X classified material, but the current laws state you may not publicly screen it. As such, we won’t.
Obviously I am astoundingly disappointed with this decision and didn't expect the Board to use such a stringent interpretation of the 20 year old classification act in assessing these films. I believe these films are not only appropriate for public viewing, but strongly deserving of festival screenings to an informed and sympathetic audience who have chosen to see them. Regrettably, I believed the Classification Board might agree with me.
To contextualise my decision, Community Action Centre, bringing together the work of a number of video artists responding to the simple idea that our bodies are art, has just been purchased by the Museum of Modern Art in New York and has exhibited at the Tate Modern, London. It will now not be screening in Australia. As a curator of the world’s most important new screen images of queer people, life and art, I wanted to bring you this film, but unfortunately our classification system has made that impossible.
I'm sincerely sorry for the inconvenience and disappointment the cancellation of these sessions will cause our audience, but I hope it doesn't cast a dampener over your enjoyment of this remarkably distinguished festival program. Ticket holders will be contacted over the next two days to replace, re-allocate or refund their tickets. Please hold tight, we will be in contact.
The Australian Classification system is currently under review by the Australian Law Reform Commission, with the recommendations of this review due to be delivered in the next two weeks. Although submissions to the community consultation process have now closed, the Classification Board will need to make decisions about which elements of this review they wish to adopt and there is nothing stopping you expressing your opinion on our classification laws directly to the Board, at any time, should you wish to.
You can do that
By Post: Locked Bag 3 Haymarket, New South Wales, 1240
By Fax: (02) 9289 7101
By Email: email@example.com
You can read more about the ALRC's review of the Classification
My personal view is that grown up people in a free modern world can make their own decisions about what they would like to see in a cinema. We must trust our chosen cultural curators and arts organisations to exercise their judgement over what work should and shouldn't be promoted to the public, not an exemptions process that prohibits public screening of work that could otherwise (even if theoretically) be privately, legally owned. As with all things human, if it is worthy of doing, it is worthy of doing together!
So, I encourage you to talk about this, to become engaged in this discussion, to have YOUR standards heard. They are setting the new "community standards" right now, this is an opportunity for you to ensure they might reflect your views.
Although it always comes at the risk of an intervention such as this, this is what Queer Screen is all about. We are a responsible and responsive cultural organisation with a mandate to screen the stories of a group of people discriminated against under law, hence it is our job to continue to question these laws and challenge them when we feel they are unjust. That is our history, that is our reality and it turns out, that is still our future.
Lex Lindsay Festival Director
Government Funds Illegal Activity
Christian Democratic Party, February 22 2012
The Rev Hon Fred Nile MLC, Leader of the Christian Democratic Party, has raised concern that the NSW Government has been complicit in the support and funding of illegal hardcore films to be screened as part of the 2012 Sydney Mardi Gras Film Festival.
"We currently have a situation where our State is in desperate need of funds, funds for Health, Education, Emergency Services, Transport and Energy Infrastructure. Amidst the current economic climate and funding cuts within the broader community, Government largesse toward the homosexual community continues unabated", said Rev Fred Nile.
"The Government appear so committed to this policy of ideological support that they were willing to help fund an illegal venture, the 'Mardi Gras Film Festival'. The intent of the so-called 'festival' to screen films that are illegal in NSW and Australia was stated long ago but it did little to impede the Government's enthusiasm for throwing money at the venture.
I wonder what the hard working families of NSW would feel about having their hard earned tax dollars being diverted from services and infrastructure to facilitate the sexual titillation of the homosexual community with illegal material? I wonder what they'd think about having this minority being afforded special 'exemptions' from the usual rule of law in NSW?", stated Rev Nile.
Rev Nile also raised the issue during question time in the NSW Upper House:
I direct my question to the Minister for Police, representing the Premier.
Is it a fact that the New South Wales Government donated $15,000 to the Mardi Gras Film Festival, which commenced on 16 February 2012?
Is it a fact that three of the so-called festival feature films contained violent and explicit real sexual acts, which are illegal to be screened publicly in New South Wales?
Can the Government explain why it funded an illegal activity?
Did the Government have any involvement in the provision of exemptions for three European pornographic films that were classified by the Australian Classification Board on 14 February this year?
Can the Government explain why the homosexual community is being treated differently to the heterosexual community under the law?
Is it the O'Farrell Government's intention to facilitate a legal double standard in New South Wales based on sexual orientation?
In Their Room: Berlin
This film has been refused an exemption from classification from the Australian Classification Board. As such, we will not be screening the work. You can read more about the cancellation of this screening here.
This session will be replaced with a screening of WEEKEND (read about the film over at that link). If you currently hold a ticket to IN THEIR ROOM BERLIN, it is now a valid ticket to WEEKEND. If you do not want this ticket, you may exchange or refund it.
In June 2012, religious nut Fred Nile, was still annoyed that the NSW Government allowed MAN AT BATH (2010) and SAGAT (2011) to screen. It was mentioned during his rant against Stuart Ringholt's naked tour of the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Preceded by a tour of the show by artist Stuart Ringholt 6-8pm
(the artist will be naked. Those who wish to join the tour must also be naked. Adults only) – Stuart Ringholt
mca.com.au, April 2012
Gain a new perspective on the current MCA exhibitions by viewing them entirely nude. Remove the material barriers between artist and audience (literally) when you join artist Stuart Ringholt’s tour followed by a nude reception. Entitled Preceded by a tour of the show by artist Stuart Ringholt 6-8pm (the artist will be naked. Those who wish to join the tour must also be naked. Adults only) the work deals with themes of fear and embarrassment.
Over 18s only, changing area available
Preceded by a tour of the show by artist Stuart Ringholt 4-5pm (the artist will be naked. Those who wish to join the tour must also be naked. Adults only) 2010
'City Given Over to Vice and Hedonism
The Christian Democratic Party, June 23 2012
The Rev Hon Fred Nile MLC, Leader of the Christian Democratic Party, has raised concern that the NSW Government was willingly giving the city over to vice and hedonism.
"Between February and March this year, we had the NSW Government giving the green light to the Homosexual community for the public screening of illegal hardcore pornography, material that any other citizen would have been arrested and charged for. Then in April we had the Government allowing members of the public to strut around naked in the Museum of Contemporary Art", said Rev Fred Nile.
"On both occasions I raised concern regarding the Government's willingness to wave the rule of law and on both occasions I have been dismissed", Rev Fred Nile stated on receipt of the latest answer to questions he raised in Parliament.
Rev Hon Fred Nile: (Question - 9 May 2012) I wish to ask the Hon Greg Souris, the Minister for Tourism, Major Events and the Arts a question on Notice:
1. Did the Museum of Contemporary Art hold an exhibitionist tour from 27 to 29 April 2012 in which the artist as well as the audience were naked for the exhibition?
2. If so, did the exhibition contravene public decency laws?
Hon George Souris: (Answer - 13 June 2012)
1. The MCA is not a State Government institution. The MCA is an independent company limited by guarantee.
2. The museum makes its own decisions about what it exhibits. An artist-led nude tour was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art from 27 to 29 April 2012. This was a special ticketed event, held outside of public hours.
Classification Board Annual Report 2011-2012
During 2011–12, the Director finalised 475 applications for exemptions to publicly exhibit unclassified films at film festivals and special film events. Eight complaints were received in relation to film festivals in the reporting period. Seven complaints were about the films, In Their Room: Berlin and Community Action Centre. These films were not granted an exemption to be screened at the Mardi Gras Film Festival as it was the view of the Director that they were in breach of the Film Festival Guidelines.