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3/7/2003: By Andrew L. Urban. 

“We’re being lied to,” fumed the famous David Stratton, as he attacked the classification (“now the censorship”) office and its review board, as well as Attorney General Darryl Williams, while the ABC’s David Marr called on the Labor Party’s supporters to “stop accepting private statements of good intentions [from Labor politicians] followed by public acts of bastardry…” during tonight’s impassioned and crowded protest against censorship at Sydney’s Balmain Town Hall. 

Triggered by the banning of Ken Park (Refused Classification), the protest meeting was planned to defy the censors and screen the film; indeed, Margaret Pomeranz, as the leading player in the anti-censorship Free Cinema movement, managed to insert a DVD of the film in a player and start the film, before the police contingent moved across the stage, outnumbered by tv crews and news photographers, to prevent it continuing.

But this isn’t just a news report about what happened, so I’ll skip the factual background which is well documented elsewhere. This is about some of the core issues that are behind the latest, backward step in the history of Australian film censorship. 

First, David Stratton’s furious statement: he’s one of the few people, along with Pomeranz, who have seen the film at one or other festivals. His claim the “we’re being lied to” refers to the Classification Review Board’s reasons for upholding the RC rating. He says the scene the CRB describes as child sexual abuse is no such thing – and he went into graphic detail to prove it: in the scene cited, a drunken father attempts to sexually interfere with his teenage son, who repels the advance and knocks him down. There is no suggestion or even inkling that the filmmakers condone the father’s behaviour, says Stratton. The mere depiction of the act cannot be said to constitute the condoning of “child sexual abuse”, any more than the depiction of other illegal acts in any film can be said to constitute condoning that act. 

He also slammed the AG, Darryl Williams, for having claimed that film festivals never had an exemption from classification and/or censorship. As David Stratton was director of the Sydney Film Festivals for about 18 years, he knows what he’s talking about. Again, he went into detailed examples to prove his point.

"the right of every Australian"

As for David Marr’s remarks about Labor, they were actually triggered by David Stratton’s departing quip that bunched the conservative decisions of the classification system with the Prime Ministership of John Howard. Marr was quick to point out that Labor politicians were not above blame in this respect, and pointed to the Labor State Attorneys General as part of the overall system. 

The uniting theme of the night’s vehement protest was that adult Australians should be able to decide for themselves what films they wish to see. David Marr put it another way: “It is the right of every Australian to not see a film they don’t think they’d like or be interested in.” 

The fact that the classification system and the guidelines on which it relies are totally and demonstrably out of touch with mainstream community views (see CENSORSHIP FEATURE) was barely mentioned, although it was alluded to.

While the protest was passionate, it was also argued with surprising lucidity and intelligence. The only faltering in the otherwise rational and powerful arguments was a reference to how the film was received by some critics (who had seen it somewhere else in the world) – as if the subjective evaluation of the film was relevant. “Isn’t it a piece of shit,” someone was quoted as saying, not having seen the film, of course. 

Nobody, not even the sharp-witted David Marr, thought to suggest that if the subjective merits of a film were taken as a guide to censorship, the multiplexes around Australia would have few films to screen.

"Censorship is the death of art"

Actress Sacha Horler put it well: “Censorship is the death of art.” But she might have added, and the veil of the ignorant. Or as Cathy Lumby said, “Censorship has always been about a small group of people infantilising the community … treating us like children.” And the irony is that Ken Park, according to David Stratton at least, is a film that pleads for the safety and happiness of children in today’s brutalised world. 

The subject of censorship in Australia is far from closed.

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David Stratton

Margaret Pomeranz

Ken Park

Is a group of critics and filmmakers who believe that:
1. Adults should have the right to see hear and read what they choose

2. Children should be protected from demonstrable harm.

3. That the uniform classification system, designed to provide a system of consumer guidance for films, videos and other publications is being progressively and deliberately undermined by restrictive classification guidelines and their conservative application.

4. The banning of the film Ken Park is a case in point .

5. We believe Ken Park should be shown – and we are prepared to act on that belief.

Jane Mills, Margaret Pomeranz, Julie Rigg, David Marr For Free Cinema

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