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PG-rated gay film seized en route to Ottawa film fest

Border guards holding three movies as Inside Out scrambles to find solution

PG FLICK. Patrik 1.5, about a Swedish couple adopting a teen named Patrik, was detained at Canada's border. It debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in Sep 2008. Credit: Courtesy of Inside Out

Canada’s border guards are holding prints of three films destined for a gay film festival in Ottawa, and they won’t release them until they’ve had the chance to watch them from beginning to end.

That poses a problem for Inside Out, a Toronto-based film festival with an annual Ottawa satellite program. They intended to show all three films this weekend. Without the prints, they’re left scrambling to find grainy lower-quality copies to show audiences.

They’re pissed.

“I was roving mad today,” says Jason St-Laurent, Inside Out’s programming director.

If they can’t find a solution, the festival stands to lose thousands of dollars.

All three movies have been shown in Canada before. Patrik 1.5 is a PG-rated film about a gay couple’s foibles adopting a child in Sweden. Clapham Junction is R-rated, but by no means obscene.

I Can’t Think Straight, the other film seized, is a relatively mainstream movie which had a theatrical release this summer. It stars Lisa Ray.

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“It seems biased at some times, and at other times random,” says St-Laurent. “But to me, this time, it is not a random event,” he adds, pointing out that all three movies are distributed by the queer-focussed American entertainment company Here! It’s impossible to say for sure, he says, because the federal agency has not given the festival any reason why it detained the films.

Initially, staff at the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) flagged Clapham Junction, a film that contains some nudity. Then they added the two other films to the list of what they seized.

Because prints on film — rather than DVD copies — are so expensive, many smaller films only have one or two sets. Prints are shipped from festival to festival around the world, often with only a few days to get from one screening to another. CBSA officials told Inside Out it could be four days until the films are vetted, meaning the prints won’t make it to the festival at all.

At Friday night’s screening of Patrik 1.5, St-Laurent delivered the news to a packed house of queer film enthusiasts. The audiences hissed and booed at mention of the CBSA.

The gay community and the CBSA (formerly Canada Customs) have a long and checkered past. Border cops spent two decades harassing gay bookstores, with books and magazines arriving in Canada delayed by months or even shredded.

Vancouver-based bookstore Little Sister’s took them to court and in 2000 won a partial victory. At the time, the Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged that material was routinely being stopped at the border because of its gay content, and ordered the government agency to stop.

“It doesn’t only happen to Little Sister’s,” St-Laurent told the audience, before playing a watermarked DVD copy of the film.

This is not Inside Out’s first time being hassled when trying to bring films into the country. They regularly use a customs broker to get films that are stuck at the border released.

Inside Out has located a DVD copy of Clapham Junction, but is still scrambling to find a copy of I Can’t Think Straight.  Each screening represents as much as $4,000 in revenue.