Even though FrightFest doesn't start till later today, a third controversy has hit the event. Following director Gregg Araki's decision to withdraw Kaboom and The Dead filmmaker Jon Ford sounding off online earlier this week, the movie heralded as the most controversial of this year's line-up, A Serbian Film, has been pulled at the last minute.
Directed by Srdjan Spasojevic, A Serbian Film centres on a porn star lured out of retirement for a final film shoot. The FrightFest programme calls it 'an unflinching look into the moral, political and ethical abyss that is Serbia today,' and the content has left even battle-hardened movie reviewers in a state of weeping disbelief, with this comment from Cinematical - 'If I could unsee it, I would' – being a pretty typical response. All of which meant that A Serbian Film seemed set to be one of the must-sees for the FrightFest crowd, eager to test their nerves against the material served up by Spasojevic.
Those nerves will however go untested, as the British Board of Film Classification (according to Bleeding Cool) requested 79 cuts, totalling nearly four minutes, from A Serbian Film, prompting the FrightFest organisers to decide to ditch the movie from its scheduled Sunday evening screening slot. Spasojevic's was not the sole FrightFest film to fall foul of the scissors of the BBFC censors either, with the remake of I Spit on Your Grave being subjected to 17 cuts, totalling 43 seconds (the original version of I Spit on Your Grave was famously banned as a so-called 'video nasty' in the UK for nearly 20 years). That movie will still screen at FrightFest, but in its freshly edited form. Festival co-director Alan Jones put out the following statement regarding the matter:
'Film4 FrightFest has decided not to show A Serbian Film in a heavily cut version because, as a festival with a global integrity, we think a film of this nature should be shown in its entirety as per the director's intention. Several film festivals across the world have already done so. Unlike the I Spit on Your Grave remake, where we are showing the BBFC certified print, as requested by Westminster Council, the issues and time-line complexities surrounding A Serbian Film make it impossible for us to screen it.'
Westminster Council, under whose administrative aegis the Empire cinema in London's Leicester Square where FrightFest is taking place falls, has past form in film-banning controversies, it having put the kibosh on David Cronenberg's Crash in 1996, despite the BBFC passing the film and it exhibiting across the rest of the United Kingdom. BBFC director David Cooke has issued his own statement on the Spit/Serbian issue, which goes as follows:
'It is the Board's policy that at the adult category the Guideline concerns will not normally override the principle that adults should be free to choose their own entertainment. However, there are cases where the Board will intervene, even at '18' [the most restrictive mainstream UK film rating, meaning no-one 18 years of age can be admitted], where material or treatment appears to the BBFC to pose a credible potential harm risk to individuals or, through their behaviour, to society, and in particular where portrayals of sexual or sexualised violence might eroticise or endorse sexual assault or where children are portrayed in a sexualised context.
The cuts to this version of I Spit on Your Grave, which the Board has required, remove elements that tend to eroticise sexual assault (for example, through the use of titillation), as well as other elements that tend to endorse sexual assault (for example, by encouraging viewer complicity by the use of camcorder footage, filmed by the rapists, during the various scenes of sexual assault). With these cuts made, the film's scenes of very strong terrorisation and sexual violence remain potentially shocking, distressing or offensive to some adult viewers, but are also likely to be found essentially repugnant and aversive. The Board takes the view that, with these cuts, they are not credibly likely to encourage imitation.
The cuts to A Serbian Film do not detract from the message of the film but remove the most problematic images of sexual and sexualised violence. The section in the Board's Guidelines which lists the possible grounds for compulsory cuts also includes material which portrays children in a sexualised or abusive context. Whilst the Board understands that these images are intended to make a political point, that does not remove the genuine harm risks to which they give rise.'
Plenty to mull over there, plenty which is wide open to further debate, and we intend to bring you more reaction to this in the next couple of days. One thing seems certain though, BBFC member David Hyman will be in for a grilling from the FrightFest crowd when he appears on the panel discussion scheduled for midday on the Monday.
Thanks to Slacker Cinema for first alerting us to this story.