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Sometime in Africa

He Thought It Was a Joke

Africa has a long list of banned films that eat at its freedom of expression. It leads to arguments and anger. But the irony of it all is that often the banned film gets great publicity for free.

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The theatre was packed. Everyone wanted to see the opening film at the Durban International Film Festival [DIFF], Of Good Report, in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. As the lights dimmed, director Jahmil XT Qubeka and producer Faith Isiakpere settled into their seats to enjoy the fruit of a year’s labor. They couldn’t believe what appeared on the screen.

“This film has been refused classification by the FPB [Film and Publication Board] in terms of the FPB Act 1996. Unfortunately we may not screen the film Of Good Report as to do so would constitute a criminal offence.”

The two men stared at each other in disbelief.

“I thought it was a joke because Qubeka and I always play jokes on each other. When the director of the festival came on stage to speak about it, that’s when we realized it wasn’t a joke,” says Isiakpere.

Of Good Report is the second collaboration for the two men, who often tackle issues faced by Africans.

In 2010, Isiakpere and Qubeka received rave reviews for A Small Town Called Descent, a film about xenophobia in South Africa.

The film in question tells the story of a forbidden relationship between a high school teacher and his 16-year-old student, played by a 23-year-old woman. Minutes into the film preview, a sexual encounter between teacher and student did not impress the classifications board and forced them to switch it off.

On that night, at the DIFF, as Isiakpere and the team stood on stage to defend their film, he recalled a conversation he had with Qubeka a few days before.

“I am very proud of you because you made a film for people who will think… But are South African’s ready to think?”

The matter of the banned film was taken to the appeals court where Isiakpere and the team fought to have their film released. Isiakpere believed the outcome would answer his question.

It normally takes 30 days for the appeals committee to make a decision.Because of the high public interest it took three.

According to Sipho Risiba, a spokesperson from the FBP, the classifications board’s legislation states that “as soon as you encounter a scene showing unwarranted content [in this case child pornography] you must immediately switch it off.”

This made it a crime to show, possess or watch Of Good Report in South Africa. Risiba added that the gap in the legislation was the fact that it was not aligned with the constitution, which states that in order to make an informed decision on film classification: “films should be watched in context and not in isolated scenes”.

“I don’t know if the film publication board ever thought about the aesthetics of the film, that the film is a certain genre. It’s an art form. And when the film like that is screened at an international film festival you realize that film festivals are platforms to be risqué [and] a platform for you to push the envelope,” says Isiakpere.

Of Good Report won the case and received a rating of 16SNV. It was premiered on the final day of the festival. All the talk around the banned, later unbanned, film lent great publicity and calls from international film festivals. Another good sign for adventurous filmmakers is that the FBP is in the final stages of reworking legislation.

So you could say the frenzy around the film, deserves an A+ for highlighting the protection for freedom of expression of filmmakers in South Africa; a good report indeed.

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