BY PAUL BENEDEK
SYDNEY Six police officers prevented film reviewer Margaret Pomeranz, journalist David Marr and others from playing a DVD of the US film Ken Park to a packed out Balmain Town Hall audience of 400 adults on July 3.
Ken Park was refused classification by the federal government's Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) in May, when it was scheduled to screen at the Sydney Film Festival. It was the first time in more than 30 years that a film scheduled for an Australian film festival has been banned.
The ruling makes it illegal to screen, hire or advertise Ken Park anywhere in Australia. Any individual violating the ban can be fined $11,000 and sentenced to one year's jail. Any company violating the ban can be fined $250,000.
Ken Park was shown in New Zealand, shortly after the Sydney Film Festival, and has been released commercially in Austria, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands.
The film was banned, according to the OFLC, because of its depictions of teenage sex, incest and auto-erotic asphyxiation. However, New Zealand's Classification Office described the movie as "an insightful presentation of the societal and family pressures on teenagers" which "did not promote or support" the exploitation of young people for sexual purposes. "On the contrary", the office stated, "the film clearly exposes such behaviour as being potentially harmful to those involved".
"Governments are happy with war films that celebrate mass slaughter, yet films that display social problems are banned", Dale Mills, a volunteer with the Legal Observers Project, told Green Left Weekly.
Last year, the OFLC's Classification Review Board banned the French film Baise-moi, after Christian-right moralist Fred Nile contacted federal Attorney-General Daryl Williams, urging him to get the OFLC to review its previous classification of the film, which had allowed it to be legally screened to adult audiences.
"The banning of Baise-moi and Ken Park appear to be part of a push by the conservatives to reimpose 1950s 'family values' on Australians", said Mills. "Whatever the artistic merit of Ken Park, and I understand it has received mixed reviews, the ban is a restriction on the freedom of artistic expression part of a broader attack on free speech by conservatives."
In 1999, the federal Coalition government strongly intervened in the selection of OFLC members, vetoing six prospective classifiers it claimed were not "ordinary" Australians. In 2000, former Melbourne mayor Des Clark a Liberal Party hack and close friend of communications minister Richard Alston was appointed director of the OFLC and the Classification Review Board.