Police enter fray, cinemas cancel screenings

SYDNEY — Australia’s Classification Review Board has once again bowed to political pressure and upped the original classification of a feature film.

Last year, UIP’s “Hannibal’s” rating was raised from an MA (under 15 only with a guardian) to R18+ (18 and older only) — after it was released — after to a campaign by extreme members of the conservative government. Last week, indie distrib Potential Films was dealt a blow with the re-classification, two weeks after its release, of Canal Plus’ “Baise-Moi.”

Pic was released unrated Stateside and screened worldwide — except in the Canadian province of Ontario, where it was banned — and in October it was classified R18+ by Australia’s Office of Film & Literature Classification.

Potential released it on six prints April 25. Pic, co-directed by Virginie Despentes and Coralie, instantly hit the headlines when a posse of conservative politicians launched a campaign to have it banned. The publicity generated plenty of biz — at Melbourne’s Lumiere Cinema, pic’s opening weekend per-screen average was A$64,000 ($35,000) — and it stayed strong.

As the film entered its third week of release May 10, the Review Board determined it should be banned. However, since that was an unprecedented action, there was no process in place for removing the pic from screens. In Sydney and Melbourne, weekend patrons kept coming, film kept unspooling and cinema operators shrugged their shoulders until police stepped in late May 12 at one Sydney cinema. That action caused the other two cinemas to cancel screenings, but not before earning weekend screen averages of between $7,000 and $15,000 apiece.

Potential owner Mark Spratt, who previously went a few rounds with the Censorship Board over Catherine Breillat’s “Romance” — is philosophical. He acknowledges pic was more successful because of the publicity, but says now he’s out of pocket on prints and advertising: “There’s no proper process of notification or grace period.” Spratt estimates he’s lost 50% of his potential gross profits from video and theatrical.

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