In a festival season where news is normally made at festivals in places like Venice, Toronto, and Telluride, it's not often that one of the most significant moments takes place at Film4 Fright Fest before any of the other fests even get underway.
And yet, that's what just happened.
"Film4 Fright Fest has decided not to show 'A Serbian Film' in a heavily cut version because, as a festival with a global integrity, we think a film of this nature should be shown in its entirety as per the director’s intention. Several film festivals across the world have already done so. Unlike the 'I Spit on Your Grave' remake, where we are showing the BBFC certified print as requested by Westminster Council, the issues and time-line complexities surrounding 'A Serbian Film' make it impossible for us to screen it."
Oh, that's rotten.
This film will never be easy to screen or to watch or to defend. Ever. It's repulsive. It's morally rancid. And yet, I defend it as one of the most significant things I've seen this year, and one of the most skilled. I don't think it's wrong for the BBFC to ask for cuts... they are, after all, a censor board. But I do object to waiting till the last minute before ambushing a long-announced screening of a film that's already played at various festivals. I saw it at South By Southwest, and it played this summer at Fantasia in Montreal.
According to screenjabber, it was 40 seconds worth of material that had to come out of "I Spit On Your Grave" before it was passed for the festival. Seems to me we're seeing a very restrictive BBFC at the moment. These things tend to ebb and flow in the US, as the MPAA goes through various shifts in how permissive they are.
Right now, we're at an interesting moment, and I'm not sure which way things are going to go. More permissive? Less permissive? One indicator of which way the wind is blowing might be the decision by AMC Theaters to show "Hatchet 2" unrated. The Adam Green sequel, also screening at the Film4 FrightFest, is said to be a wall-to-wall bloodbath with over 15 gore make-up set pieces. And when the MPAA coughed up a bone at the thought of giving "Hatchet 2" an R, AMC decided to step up, and the result is one of the biggest unrated releases ever. If Vitagraph Films really William Castle's this decision, they can get a lot of publicity out of this, and a lot of curious audiences ready to see what is "too much" for the MPAA to handle.
And before you say that it's no big deal if a film as willfully foul as "A Serbian Film" was dropped from a major London film festival over a full four minutes worth of material, it's worth noting that Ken Russell was also at Fantasia this summer with a look back at his career, including a screening of "The Devils." I know people who went to Montreal just for that.
And the film they saw? It's still not the film Ken Russell made. Even now, forty-or-so years later. This is a movie from Warner Bros., a company that regularly releases "unrated" versions of movies. And yet, for some reason, out of fear because of the particular kind of material in dispute, "The Devils" remains disfigured. And if other countries take their cue from the UK, "A Serbian Film" could turn into one of those movies now, permanently altered by legal pressure.
We'll have more on this as these films continue to wrestle with finding their audience.
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