A poster for the MUFF screening, somewhere in Melbourne’s Fitzroy district
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.