Contrary to widespread expectation, the Film & Literature Board of Review has upheld the banning of “In a Glass Cage” (Tras es Cristal), creating a furor among the city’s critic community.

The ban, issued by the Office of Film & Literature Classification’s Film Censorship Board, kept the multi-award winning Spanish release from appearing as part of the Film Festival of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (Variety, Feb. 6-12).

Film festival director Jeff Mitchell said the move was “highly unusual, reactionary and conservative” and set a dangerous precedent for festivals.

Although the board has yet to release its formal reasons for the decision, preliminary explanations reaffirm the censorship board’s finding that the film was “indecent because of its graphic and explicit portrayals of the sexual abuse and torture of young children.”

“In addition, current legislation in all states and territories prohibits the depiction of children under the age of 16 years in a manner that is likely to cause offense to a reasonable adult. The film, therefore, cannot be registered, nor classified under current guidelines,” the explanation stated.

Festival director Mitchell said, “The legislation needs to be overhauled so festivals can have free artistic expression and be entirely free of censorship. I think it is ludicrous that an award-winning film should be withheld from Australian audiences when film festivals around the world have seen the film.”

“Cage” is the first festival film to have registration refused since the legendary tussles in the mid-70s between censors and the Sydney Film Festival. It is also the first film to meet such a fate under the reign of the present censorship legislation. The contents of a film festival are usually cleared together, but chief censor John Dickie confirmed the censors demanded festival organizers “voluntarily submit” “Cage” separately.

“If they had not submitted it, the approval of the festival would have been called into question,” he said.

“It is unusual for festivals to put films which are refused,” Dickie admitted, “but this was one of those films that went beyond community boundaries of decency.”

Variety understands the six member board was equally divided on the issue.

Margaret Pomeranz, film critic and executive producer of “The Movie Show,” said the move was “a retrograde step.”

“I think it is not a wonderful film, but I think festivalgoers and film writers have the right to see it. I hate to think we are moving into a more conservative movie culture; it is important to make a fuss about this insipid conservatism, which is a real worry.”