Home Page

please email us with your suggestions for interesting subjects for this page
BUFFS PAGE

Page updated: 13 aPRIL 2013

BFI
open directory
Film Clubs & Societies
north west vision
Northern film Network
Political Film Society
Film-Philosophy
Human Rights Watch
Britfilms.com
NESTA-Arts and Innovation
IAC Amateur Film-makers
La Musee de visioniste
Museum of net-based art
e-mail 

 









 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Communications:
White Paper


British Board
of Film Censors


Dept. of Culture,
Media and Sport
(censorship)















Melon Farmers:
anti-censorship
campaign

 

Media-watch:
pro:censorship
campaign

CCMS:
good neutral sourc
e

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TOP

Explained:
Film censorship in the UK

( from the Guardian 13/3/2002)

Sean Clarke explains how British censorship works

The Home Office, the Department of Culture Media and Sport, the British board of film classification, local councils and film distributors all have a say in what you can and can't see on videos and cinema screens in the UK.

Who controls film censorship in the UK?

In theory, local councils - borough and county councils for the most part - have the power to allow any cinema to show any film. In practice, the councils almost always follow the classifications given to films by the British Board of Film Classification (formerly the British Board of Film Censorship).

Exceptions to this are rare enough to be notable. In 1996, Westminster Council refused a licence to David Cronenberg's Crash, though it played in the rest of the country, and in 1998 Camden Council granted a licence to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which was later classified as 18 by the BBFC.

What is the BBFC?

The BBFC is technically an autonomous industry body, which charges film distributors for the service it provides in classifying films. It was set up in 1912 by the film industry as a self-regulatory body in an attempt to head off government interference.

With a few exceptions, local councils gradually accepted its classifications as standard, establishing the BBFC as the UK's semi-official censor. Since then, its relationship with government has been based largely on a gentlemen's understanding: the BBFC keeps its classifications within bounds deemed acceptable to government of the day (with a close eye on public opinion).

In return, parliament makes no move to set up an official body. In 1984, parliament made the BBFC the body responsible for video classification in Britain. This has brought the gentlemen's agreement within the law. It gave the BBFC official status at last, but has also left it more vulnerable to persuasion from central government.

How does the BBFC make its decisions?
When does it cut films?

The board operates to a set of guidelines published on its website. It has traditionally observed a distinction between what it calls "manners" - flexible attitudes on the part of the public towards things such as nudity and obscene language, and "morals" - immutable codes of conduct.

This conveniently allows it to change its classifications if it judges that public attitudes have changed. The BBFC is keen to highlight the role that public consultation plays in its decision making, and organises "roadshows" to both canvas public opinion and to justify its decisions.

The board cuts films surprisingly rarely, and very openly: its website lists the length of any cut, and the reasons for it. Most cuts are made at the request of the distributor, to squeeze films into a lower age classification (generally speaking, lower age classifications means increased takings at the box office).

Films classified 18 are rarely cut, and generally only to avoid prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act.

Who runs the BBFC?

Good question. In theory, it runs itself as a business. In practice, it is very susceptible to influence from government departments, partly through its fear of being made redundant by the creation of an official body.

The clearest example of this is the nomination of its president. Since the authority to classify films for video release is granted to the president of the BBFC as a person, the board's continued survival would be in doubt if it failed to appoint someone with Home Office approval.

So the Home Office calls the shots?

Not any more. Since June 2001, responsibility for film and video classification has moved from the Home Office to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. In part, this is because the DCMS is working on bringing regulation of broadcast media, film and video under the aegis of a single body, Ofcom.

What would this mean for film censorship?

One of the proposals is that Ofcom take over from the BBFC in its role as video censor. This would mean a substantial loss of revenue for the BBFC, and also raise the possibility of classification differences between the two bodies.

The BBFC already has a stricter policy on video than cinema releases, but is at least consistent in itself. Ultimately, it is hard to imagine that a body created to regulate broadcast and video films would not eventually assume responsibility for cinema exhibition too.

The effect of having film censorship run directly by a government agency raises obvious concerns. Critics of the proposal predict many more knee-jerk responses to causes celebres, and less consistency over time as new governments are sworn in, bringing their own attitudes with them.

Aren't there laws about what can and can't be shown in films?

The Obscene Publications Act prohibits material which "tends to deprave or corrupt persons who are likely to read, see or hear it", and other laws apply specifically to video releases. Though very vague, the law is generally held to apply to anything which might encourage criminal activity by those watching it, especially if it encourages violence or sexual violence.

Interestingly, the BBFC last year consulted the police as to whether car theft scenes in Gone in Sixty Seconds were likely to assist would-be car thieves. The police thought not. The perceived ban on images of the erect penis and sexual penetration is largely that: a perceived ban. In fact, the BBFC has recently classified two films, Romance and Intimacy, which feature precisely those images.

 

 

back to beginning of a




We do not fear censorship, for we have no wish to offend with improprieties or obscenities, but we do demand, as a right, the liberty to show the dark side of wrong, that we may illuminate the bright side of virtue - the same liberty which is conceded to the art of the written word - that art to which we owe the Bible and the works of Shakespeare.


(Caption inserted by D.W.Griffiths before his controversial film
' The Birth of a Nation' - 1915)


------------

A PLEA FOR THE ART OF THE MOTION PICTURE

When this report of an MP's speech was printed in the Western Daily Mail on Saturday, 1 May 1926, attitudes towards the cinema and censorship were clear cut

THE CINEMA
"IT'S NO USE FIGHTING AGAINST IT"

Mr T P O'Connor, who is Chairman of the British Board of Film Censors, on Friday afternoon spoke at the National Council of Public Morals held at Hampden House, Green Street, the residence of the Duke of Sutherland, on the improvement of the British race. A cinema should be attached to every elementary school, he said. The living and real images of things as they were was infinitely superior to dry history and geography books as an educational medium.

"It's no use fighting against the cinema," he continued. "As an institution it has come here and it has come to stay."

It was an essentially domestic entertainment to which fathers brought their wives and children. The standards of censorship were infinitely more severe in the cinema than in any other form of art.

"I don't accept the proposition that the taste of the masses is necessarily high," he said. "In the press divorce proceedings and crime are a very potent factor in the increase of circulations. When I was the editor of a newspaper at a time when circulation was not over-high Jack the Ripper made my fortune."

"If he committed one murder the circulation jumped to 25,000. If he committed two in one night it jumped to 35,000. There is nothing that interests the common mind so much as a story of crime. We must take into account weakness and bad taste and not expect too much. There are plays today admitted to the stage which I wouldn't think of admitting to the cinema. I think we, the film censors, represent the highest form of censorship."

Ninety to 95 per cent of the films shown in this country were American, he said. This was humiliating but inevitable. America had many more cinemas than we had and some people said they had all the money in the world. "I sometimes wish they would be a little more considerate in their demands on the tortured nations of Europe," he admitted plaintively.

Has such an awful lot changed since 1926? In some quarters, movies are still regarded as an educational medium or "a domestic entertainment" rather than an art form.

Talk about "the improvement of the British race" is rarely to be heard these days, when eugenics is less fashionable, but the somewhat condescending attitude that the taste of the "masses" is low and that they should be improved by their chosen art or entertainment still maintains some currency, especially when it appears that royal phone calls, let alone divorces, can sell more newspapers than Jack the Ripper ever could.

And, alas for the British film industry, the vast majority of films exhibited in this country are still American

Nowadays the British Board of Film Censors is the British Board of Film Classification.

You might think that all forms of artistic censorship disappeared when the Lord Chamberlain's powers were abolished in 1968 and with the Board's subsequent change of name. But the certificates which it is empowered to grant to films still enables the Board effectively to censor movies ("If you want a PG certificate, you will remove the following scenes...") and, moreover, the certificates themselves have become more sophisticated.

The U, A and X certificates of the 1960s have been superseded by:
U ("Universal. Suitable for all.")
PG ("Parental Guidance. Some scenes may unsuitable for young children.")
12 ("Passed only for persons of 12 years and over.")
15 ("Passed only for persons of 15 years and older.")
18 ("Passed only for persons of 18 years and older.")
R18 ("For Restricted Distribution only, through segregated premises to which no one under 18 years is admitted.").

It's possible that these finer gradations of censorship mean that "strong" f'ilms are not automatically consigned to the 18 category but it is sometimes difficult to see exactly which swear word, violent or sexual situation constitutes the line beyond which no 12 or 15 year old may cross.

With videos the BBFC exercises even greater powers - the controversy over and delay in granting a video certificate to Reservoir Dogs is a case in point. An indication of a movie's content is, of course, essential - but there are some 12 and 15 certificate films which 1 have found more disturbing than, say, Pulp Fiction.

To that end, it would certainly be helpful to know exactly which criteria are being followed when certificates are assigned. Ultimately, it does seem that moving pictures are still more subject to censorship than any other art form, often apparently as the result of knee-jerk political expediency.

After all, in the realm of painting, would you place a sticker marked "12" on Renoir's Dejeuner sur 1'herbe (nudity), one marked "15" on Munch's The Scream (horrific content) or one marked "18" on Damien Hirst's bipartite sheep (violence)?

- Debbie Slater

 

 

 

TOP

 

 

#

HOW LONG IS A PIECE OF FILM?

 [extract from article below by John Hardwick,]

'Perhaps short films are more comparable to poetry than to plays. In the same way that poetry can bend language and suggest (rather than declare) meaning, short films are able to explore the vocabulary of cinema and emphasise mood over narrative structure. Clearly there are many ways to skin a cat but short films do tend to revolve around the single idea or event. A woman wakes up to discover she has become monochromatic in a world that remains coloured; a man has to balance caring for his son against attending a job interview. Both these scenarios are simple, contained cameos - an idea worked out, a portrait concluded - and both have cut their cloth correctly. They are ideas that wouldn't make the finishing line in a feature film but work well enough for the duration of a short. Short films work best when they are courageous and prepared to experiment. A short film does not have to tell a story. It can be a rant, a joke, a journey, an essay, a poem, a portrait, a painting, a piss take.....At the other end of the scale, cinemas have become passive, entertainment-obsessed palaces of consumption. Their mania for movie stars and big profits has resulted in the market being choked with identikit films that leave the viewer seriously undernourished. Its high time we stopped genuflecting before the golden temple of features and realised instead that there are many different filmmaking and film viewing possibilities now available to us in this country. We would do well to skip the local multiplex every once in a while in favour of our nearest film club. Whether it be in the back of a night club or the front of a disused shop, these societies provide some of the best places to satisfy our desire for original, provocative filmmaking. Filmmaking that showcases some of the best, least celebrated cinema talent in the U.K.'.       

HOW LONG IS A PIECE OF FILM? by John Hardwick

British short films are a thriving and important part of this country's cultural production. They are produced here in large numbers and exhibited at festivals all over the world where they inform, entertain and frequently win prizes. If overseas audiences and juries are to be believed the British are considered to be good at making shorts. This is a flattering and healthy situation to be in and it is helpful to consider what has made it possible.

Firstly, funding in this country for shorts tends to be relatively accessible and adventurous (despite the demise of organisations such as the much missed BFI Production). Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the brief duration of the short film tends to encourage an idiosyncratic and energetic approach to filmmaking. This creative freedom naturally compares favourably to the stricter conventions that surround the full length feature. With notable exceptions, feature film production in Britain has tended to mold itself around the monumental influence of its literary and theatrical antecedants. This has given rise to the prevailing orthodoxy that a feature film is a ninety minute morality tale told in three acts. A feature film, for many of us therefore, is merely a play with close ups.

Short films, on the other hand, have managed to avoid much of this narrative orthodoxy. Perhaps short films are more comparable to poetry than to plays. In the same way that poetry can bend language and suggest (rather than declare) meaning, short films are able to explore the vocabulary of cinema and emphasise mood over narrative structure. Clearly there are many ways to skin a cat but short films do tend to revolve around the single idea or event. A woman wakes up to discover she has become monochromatic in a world that remains coloured; a man has to balance caring for his son against attending a job interview. Both these scenarios are simple, contained cameos - an idea worked out, a portrait concluded - and both have cut their cloth correctly. They are ideas that wouldn't make the finishing line in a feature film but work well enough for the duration of a short. Short films work best when they are courageous and prepared to experiment. A short film does not have to tell a story. It can be a rant, a joke, a journey, an essay, a poem, a portrait, a painting, a piss take.

Short films also work well clubbed together and always have done. From the early 8mm film societies where hobbyists would gather to view each other's home movies to the underground cinema clubs that currently blend film, video, performance and polemic, the short has always been the tool of the personal filmmaker as opposed to the industrial filmmaker. Voices that are too idiosyncratic for the multiplexes find a raucous and demanding audience in the backrooms of pubs, and increasingly, in art galleries.

Admittedly, the art gallery audiences are more reverential than raucous but they still represent the public hunger for innovative film and video work. At the other end of the scale, cinemas have become passive, entertainment-obsessed palaces of consumption. Their mania for movie stars and big profits has resulted in the market being choked with identikit films that leave the viewer seriously undernourished. Its high time we stopped genuflecting before the golden temple of features and realised instead that there are many different filmmaking and film viewing possibilities now available to us in this country. We would do well to skip the local multiplex every once in a while in favour of our nearest film club. Whether it be in the back of a night club or the front of a disused shop, these societies provide some of the best places to satisfy our desire for original, provocative filmmaking. Filmmaking that showcases some of the best, least celebrated cinema talent in the U.K.

John Hardwick makes short films, pop videos and adverts. He is currently working on the special effects of a short drama entitled '33 x Around The Sun'.

NESTA
Warp Films
Cinesite

TOP