Monday, March 21, 2011

Artistic Freedom Under Attack: A Serbian Film

As any of you who read my blog know, I like to joke around and have fun with the horror genre. Today, however, I have something very serious to talk about. Many of you are familiar with the controversial movie A Serbian Film. I listed it as one of my top 10 films of last year. It was screened at the Sitges Film Festival in Barcelona, Spain in October of 2010. Earlier this month, Barcelona’s public prosecutor filed formal charges against festival director Angel Sala. The charge? Exhibition of child pornography.

For those of you who have not seen the film and plan to, please be warned that the next 2 sentences give away plot details. You may want to skip them. The controversy stems from 2 scenes. One is the rape of a newborn, the other a little boy. What the Spanish government seems not to realize is that neither of these events actually happened. Serbian Film is a fictional movie. One doesn’t even occur on screen, we only hear the sounds. That particular scene is the most disturbing thing I’ve seen or heard in a movie, well, maybe ever. I’m not debating that the acts depicted are vile. The issue is that they are NOT REAL! There were no children harmed, nor were any children even present, during the filming of these scenes.

Pornography is defined as “the portrayal of explicit sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual excitement and erotic satisfaction.” First of all, the depiction of the sexual violence against children in the film is not explicit. Disturbing, yes, but explicit, no. Second of all, these scenes are not meant to titillate or arouse at all. They are portrayed as the reprehensible actions of a deranged man. To make an accusation as serious as exhibiting child pornography against someone for showing a fictional film in which a crime is depicted that never actually happened is preposterous. How can it be kiddie porn if no children were victimized? Spain's "Catholic Confederation of Family and Student Parents" successfully led the charge to have a man charged with a heinous crime not because the crime occurred, but because he dared to exhibit a film that conveyed the IDEA of the crime. I’ll pause for a second to let the irony of a Catholic organization calling for the demonization of someone depicting the FAKE sexual victimization of children sink in.

I would be incensed enough if this was merely a case of the old “Obscene Material” debate. Societies have been trying to destroy art that challenges cultural norms for as long as there’s been art. Censorship in and of itself is bad enough. This, however, is not a case of “this art offends me so it must be banned.” No, this is much more insidious. It is taking what is portrayed fictionally and treating it as if it is real for the purposes of prosecution. This is a very dangerous precedent to set. If this stands, what comes next? Could a theater showing a bloody slasher flick be charged with exhibiting a snuff film? What about a rape scene? This is a slippery slope that we cannot allow governments to start. This type of case seeks not to control the level of graphicness, but subject matter itself! The Spanish government wants to tell filmmakers and theater owners what they can make and show movies about and what they can’t. That idea scares me far more than anything I’ve ever seen on film. They aren’t even going after the filmmakers, but someone who showed the film. Apparently it wasn’t a child porn issue when it was screened at festivals in Brussels, Montreal, London, Austin, San Francisco, Toronto, Sofia, Hamburg, Helsinki, Puchon (South Korea), Stockholm, Cannes, Santa Monica, or anywhere else. Why Spain? Why now?

Why should you care about what is going on in Spain anyway? Because, my friends, this situation has far reaching implications that could impact all of us in the horror community. The effects are already being felt. FlixFling, who are the American distributor for A Serbian Film, have been promising movie goers a limited theatrical release, assuring us that it would be shown the way the director intended, uncut. In an interview with Fangoria, CEO Tom Ashley revealed that when it is shown starting May 13, it will, in fact, be edited. The reason for their change of heart? You guessed it! Ashley stated “It was always our intention to release this film uncut, but given the recent charges against Sitges director Angel Sala, we have decided to release an edited version.” Although it has already been shown in its original form at festivals in America, due to this ridiculous situation, they’ve given in to censorship. What’s happening in Spain is already working its way into America. We just got an unrated theater release last year for the first time in 25 years. Now it seems the climate is taking two steps back. If this kind of thing continues, festival directors, film exhibitors, and theater owners will be afraid to show edgy or controversial films at all. The fascism of political correctness will have won. The MPAA is bad enough without adding this fuel to the fire.

So what can you or I do? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not sure how to make a difference in what is going on in Spain. There are steps that we can take to let our voices be heard. Whether it will actually have an impact I can’t say, but I for one can’t do nothing. I do know that an online petition to the Spanish courts is being circulated, spearheaded by a group of Spanish filmmakers and festival organizers. There will be a link to it at the end of this article. I have heard some people who otherwise seem quite intelligent and rational call for the banning of this film. It is a rough flick, I’ll give it that. There are a lot of people who couldn't handle this one, and I understand that. There are people who say this movie went too far and shouldn't have been made. While I will NEVER agree with banning any film, I can see where they are coming from. This isn’t even an issue of whether the film should be banned or not, it is an issue of whether or not someone can be prosecuted for showing a film that recreates a crime. Your thoughts, my thoughts, anyone’s thoughts about the movie itself are irrelevant at this point. I urge you, if you care at all about artistic freedom, or justice at all, sign the petition. I urge you all to boycott FlixFling’s screenings of the neutered version of the film. I also urge you to go one step further and write them, telling them that you would support an unrated, uncut showing of the film, but refuse to spend your hard earned money to watch as the director’s vision is compromised. Thank you for hearing me out, it’s an issue I feel very strongly about. Please sign the petition, write FlixFling, boycott all censored screenings of A Serbian Film, support anyone with the balls to show the real movie, and let’s fight for cinematic artistic freedom.

NOTE: Scroll down the page to read the petition in English

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm voting now :)

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