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Durban Fest to Unspool as Planned Despite Opening Night Set-back

'Of Good Report' filmmaker, fest organizers pledge to fight gov't ban

DURBAN, South AfricaThe Durban Film Festival said Friday that it would proceed with screenings as planned, despite the banning of its opening night film, “Of Good Report,” by the South Africa Film and Publication Board.

The film’s director, Jahmil XT Qubeka, and the UKZN, the body that oversees the fest’s organization, intend to appeal against the board’s decision. If that fails, the pic’s producer, Mike Auret, himself a lawyer, will take it to the Constitutional Court.

Auret said, “It is not the function of state to moralize.”

The Film and Publication Board had refused to authorize any screening of the film, claiming it would constitute a criminal offense. “Of Good Report” was among seven festival films that the board’s classification committee had requested to view, based on the films’ synopses.

“The fact that the committee refused classification does not mean that it does not have artistic merit. It is implementing legislation,” Yoliswa Makhasi, CEO of the Film and Publication Board, said. “The decision of the classification committee is informed by the Film and Publications Act, and the committee is required by law to refuse classification (if the film contravenes that law). It is merely implementing the legislation.”

Makhasi added, “The minute there is any element of child pornography, as defined in the Act, the committee has to stop viewing.” It was around 28 minutes into the film when the committee made its decision.

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Auret retorted, “If the committee was acting within a law of South Africa, that law is unconstitutional.

“The (constitution) protects freedom of speech and expression, particularly when it is in the public interest. The film is shining a light on events that are happening in schools in South Africa every day. The film treats this subject in an artistic fashion. Therefore it is constitutionally protected.

“During the Apartheid days, film festivals would obtain special license to screen movies that couldn’t be shown under the Apartheid laws. The FPB has acted outside of the constitution — against a national film festival; it is unacceptable and embarrassing to South Africa.”

The film, which has been selected for the upcoming Toronto festival, was due to open the Durban fest Thursday night, but instead the filmmakers took to the stage in protest.

At the scheduled opening, the following words appeared on the screen: “This film has been refused classification by the Film and Publication Board, in terms of the Film and Publications Act of 1996. Unfortunately we may not legally screen the film, ‘Of Good Report,’ as doing so would constitute a criminal offense.”

Qubeka describes the picture as “a passionate homage to classic film noir.” It tells the somber tale of a small-town high-school teacher with a penchant for young girls, who becomes obsessed with a 16-year-old student.

In Qubeka’s words, “Of Good Report,” which is produced by Auret and Luzuko Dilima of Spier Films, “is a serial-killer origins story about how a social misfit turns into an inadequate man hell-bent on satisfying his shameful lust. It is Little Red Riding Hood told from the wolf’s perspective.”

The manager of the film festival, Peter Machen, said in a statement Thursday: “Unfortunately, the Film and Publication Board has refused to allow the release of ‘Of Good Report.’ According to their communication to the festival, the film contains a scene that constitutes child pornography, and we are unable to legally show the film. I am very sorry about this. Out of respect for the director of the film, we will not be showing an alternative film tonight.”

Qubeka, who had taped his mouth shut, chose not to comment as an act of defiance; instead his wife, Dr. Lwazi Manzi spoke on his behalf, describing the horrors of abused young women by older men that she encounters daily as a doctor at a government hospital. “Just because they (the FPB) don’t want to see it, does not mean it does not happen,” she said. “We shall not not talk about it. I am very proud of my husband, and the cast and crew. This is a pivotal day in the history of film in our country, one which will resonate in history.”

Professor Cheryl Potgieter, deputy vice chancellor and head of the College of Humanities at UKZN, under whose curatorship the organizers of the festival, The Center for Creative Arts, is a special project, said: “We chose to not show another film in deference to the filmmaker, and to ensure there was critical mass to carry this debate and discourse forward.”

Auret said he is “shocked and saddened that the film was banned just before it was due to open the festival. What has become of our constitutional rights as citizens in South Africa? This is like the censorship of the old National Christian fascists of Apartheid. We will fight to give South Africans the right to see the film.”

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