Durban Festival Opening Night Screening Canceled as Government Refuses to Classify Film

UPDATED: The country's Film and Publication Board refused to classify and clear "Of Good Report," directed by Jahmil XT Qubeka, citing child pornography concerns.

LONDON - The opening night screening of the 34th Durban International Film Festival was canceled Thursday night as opening film Of Good Report, directed by Jahmil XT Qubeka, was refused classification by the country's Film and Publication Board. 

"As such, the festival was unable to screen it," organizers said.

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“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, which constitutes child pornography, and we are unable to legally show the film. I am very sorry about this," said Durban festival manager Peter Machen.

He said no alternative movie was screening to kick off the festival "out of respect for the director of the film.”

Instead of the opening credits, the following message was displayed on the screen at the canceled screening, according to a statement from organizers: “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.”

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The film tells the tale of a small-town high-school teacher with a penchant for young girls. One day, he meets a young woman at a local tavern. "Captivated by her beauty, an illicit affair ensues. However, there’s just one problem: [she] is one of [his] pupils and is just 16 years old," a description of the film says.

“We chose the film because it was challenging, powerful and artistically successful, and particularly because it was such a strong expression of an individual voice .” added Machen. “It presents a story of a very real and troubling social problem of rampant abuse of position in our country.”

A representative for the South African film board wasn't immediately available for comment. But the organization's website highlighted a campaign designed to "raise the profile of child pornography as a social ill that confronts communities across racial, economic and social lines."

Qubeka showed up at the canceled screening with his mouth taped, choosing not to comment as an act of defiance, festival organizers said. His wife, Lwazi Manzi, spoke on his behalf, describing how she regularly sees abused young women in her job as a doctor at a government hospital.

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“Just because they (the FPB) don’t want to see it, does not mean it does not happen," she said, according to the festival. “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.”

Qubeka plans to appeal against the decision of the film board.

Producer Mike Auret, a lawyer, said in a statement that he would take the issue to South Africa's Constitutional Court if necessary. “It is not the function of state to moralize,” he said.

The 34th Durban International Film Festival runs until July. Its lineup, which will once again put the spotlight on African films, includes more than 70 feature films and a slew of documentaries and short films.

The festival organizers said screenings of all other films will continue as planned for the next nine days. 

Twitter: @georgszalai