The Inside Out queer film festival in May was marred by censorship, and disagreements and misunderstandings with the film review board.
The film With Gilbert and George had scenes with queer content censored by its own producer and a number of documentaries — including three shorts on gay fathers — received 14A ratings from the Ontario Film Review Board (OFRB).
“We want an all-ages festival,” says Jason St-Laurent, Inside Out’s programming director. “Three documentaries on gay parenting, as if there’s anything contentious about that. Now let’s say Hot Docs was screening a doc about straight parenting. Do you think they’d get this rating? It’s totally disheartening.”
In order to have their films rated festivals in Ontario are required to either submit all the films or submit written synopses to the OFRB, the route Inside Out took. If a festival does neither all of its films are automatically classified R, meaning nobody under 18 is allowed to watch them.
Janet Robinson, the chair of the OFRB, admits the board may have been particularly cautious because they were dealing with queer films.
“Because this is a gay and lesbian festival they probably erred on the side of caution,” she says. “When you hear about couples being involved in the synopsis, you don’t know what that means.”
Robinson hastens to add that the OFRB is similarly prudish about straight films.
“If all of a sudden you hear about couples being involved, whether heterosexual or homosexual, it gets a higher rating,” she says.
Robinson says the OFRB doesn’t necessarily trust the synopses sent in by the festivals.
“We have been burned before by classifying things we thought were probably fine,” she says, “and it turns out they’re not, because the people who write the synopses didn’t tell us exactly what was in them.”
Inside Out made matters worse by turning away a father and son, thinking the docs had received a 14+ rating, meaning nobody under the age of 14 could attend. In fact no such rating exists. The 14A rating means those under 14 can attend if accompanied by an adult.
Inside Out screwed up, says executive director Scott Ferguson.
“That was a mistake by our front of the house staff,” he says.
But Ferguson and St-Laurent both question why the films merited even a 14A rating, or why Patti Smith: Dream of Life, The Beirut Apartment and A Jihad for Love did too.
“Maybe she says ‘fuck’ too many times,” St-Laurent says of Patti Smith, a look at the legendary singer.
He also questions the rating for The Beirut Apartment, about gay men in Lebanon.
“Compared to what kids see on TV every day there’s nothing in there,” he says. “It was coproduced with Amnesty International.”
And St-Laurent wonders if the title of A Jihad for Love, a documentary about queer Muslims, is what alarmed the OFRB.
“It’s another one where there’s nothing in there,” he says. “Maybe ‘jihad’ scared them.”
Robinson says the ratings did not prevent anybody from seeing the films.
“A six-year-old can go to an 18A film with an adult,” she says. “We don’t like it but it doesn’t restrict anybody.”
St-Laurent says youth should be able to attend without adult accompaniment.
“Especially this year we really made a concerted effort to make our films as accessible as possible to youth,” he says. “If you look at all three of our galas, they all had youth as their protagonists.
“Of course we wouldn’t set ourselves up for failure by having kids see a porno. It wouldn’t be in our best interest. But who’s in a better position to make that decision? Me, who’s seen everything, or someone who’s read a one-paragraph synopsis?”
But not all the problems stemmed from the OFRB. St-Laurent says a producer of With Gilbert and George, a documentary about two queer British artists in a long-term relationship, cut several scenes without the director’s permission.
“The producer felt there was too much emphasis on the relationship between the two artists,” he says. “I think the issue was he felt it would make it more difficult to sell for broadcast. We sided with the filmmaker who didn’t want to screen the film with the cuts.”
But St-Laurent has little sympathy for filmmakers who use private funding.
“Directors always have a choice to make a film independently,” he says. “As an artist you need to ensure you have complete control of your work.”