The joke that is the FPB is no laughing matter, says SA filmmaker

2012-06-02 17:36

Award-winning South African filmmaker Oliver Hermanus shared his experience with the Film and Publication Board (FPB) last year. It would be a humorous tale if the issues weren’t so serious.

Hermanus’s film Skoonheid has been sold to more than a dozen international territories. In South Africa, it was rated 18 Sex, Language, Nudity, Violence.

In the UK and Australia, it received a similar rating. In France and Holland, it was no under 16.

“But if it’s man-on-woman action, then the ratings are lower. Guy-on-guy always pumps up the rating in slightly conservative countries,” he said
this week.

Skoonheid tells the tale of a married Afrikaans man who has a secret life – he meets other men for homosexual trysts on a farm.

It is a quiet and brooding work with a few sex scenes. Although not explicit, there is a scene that includes a pornographic video playing on a TV.

When the time came to release Skoonheid in South Africa, Hermanus opted to create his own distribution company instead of relying on Ster-Kinekor and Nu Metro.

“So we had to do two things,” he says. “We had to register the company with the FPB and have the film rated.

“To register a company, we discovered that the forms online were outdated by a few years. The office in Cape Town was, and still probably is, little more than an empty building with a few desks and, if I remember correctly, three people.

“Then, they could not understand why we were not releasing the film through Ster-Kinekor and repeatedly tried to explain to us that we should do that.

“They rarely responded to emails, we had to call them daily, and only after delivering DVDs to their premises in Johannesburg and awaiting a rating did they mention that for no explicable reason they needed to watch the film on a 35mm print and in a theatre that we had to rent out for them to be able to rate it.”

He said the FPB website proved “useless” and “their staff are marginally aware of what it is that they do for a living”, and the board provided “daily laughs in the office”.

Hermanus becomes serious, though, when discussing the implications of Friday’s classification of The Spear (16N).

“The jurisdiction of the FPB should not and must not extend to artworks displayed in galleries,” he says.

“To me it means the ruling party and the FPB as their minions have made a decision on what we can and cannot express or publish as artists, and the scope of the content we may wish to explore or comment on through our work.

“It is quite shocking to be debating the right of artists in any democratic society.”

But the events of the past two weeks are unlikely to deter him. “In fact, the threat of censorship will most likely inspire artists in South Africa to produce bolder and more powerful pieces.”

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