Durban Fest: South African Film Board Rep 'Unfazed' by Criticism

"The Look of Love"

The Film and Publication Board caused controversy and much debate when it declined to clear the festival's opening movie.

LONDON – A workshop organized as part of the Durban International Film Festival in South Africa on Wednesday turned into a heated debate about the role of the country's film classification body, which kept the fest's opening movie from screening, according to local reports.

The Film and Publication Board, which clears and classifies films before they can be screened in South Africa, has caused controversy and much debate during the 34th edition of the festival, which runs through Sunday.

Opening film Of Good Report, directed by Jahmil XT Qubeka, couldn't be screened in Durban after the FPB refused to clear it, citing child pornography concerns. As reported, Durban festival organizers said screening the film would therefore have been deemed a criminal offense.

In the movie, a 23-year-old actress plays a 16-year-old who has sex with her sugar daddy.

As reported, Michael Winterbottom's The Look of Love also didn't screen amid a lack of clearance by the FPB.

During the Q&A portion of Wednesday's workshop organized by the FPB, the producer of the film Of Good Report, Michael Auret, called the FPB negligent, citing a similar case, in which a screening ban was overturned on appeal, the City Press newspaper reported.

FPB representative Sipho Msiba responded that the organization had not been negligent. He cited two amendments to the agency's founding documents.

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Peter Machen, manager of the Durban film festival, then highlighted that TV shows could depict similar sexual storylines, accusing the FPB of having "acted unconstitutionally," the City Press reported.

It cited him as adding: "This is a model inherited from an old South Africa. The real pornography is poverty and inequality." Becoming emotional, he ended up leaving the room in tears for a while.

Msiba shot back. "We support our classifiers and stand by their decision," the FPB rep said, according to the City Press. “We are in line with the constitution. We are not here to justify the decision. We note the attacks against us and are unfazed."

He added: "There will be an appeal process. We will defend our classification."

An FPB spokesman added: "Producers have attacked us. … We have been referred to as retards and morons. I have personally been threatened. But we have kept our cool."

Durban festival director Machen then returned to the workshop and criticized the FPB for having asked for copies of "mainly African films" to review before this year's festival, the City Press said. “Are we policing only African sexuality?” asked Machen.

According to the City Press, the FPB spokesman responded: "I note your concern, but it doesn’t matter if it's a Qubeka or a [Steven] Spielberg [film.]"

Machen and Auret have appealed the FPB ruling. The FPB reps said the agency was fast-tracking the appeal process amid a public outcry.

Twitter: @georgszalai