Adelaide Film Festival 2018: [CENSORED]

Watch the trailer here.

Prior to the introduction of the film rating system in 1971, the Australian Censorship Board was responsible for cutting thousands of scenes from films brought into Australia to be screened. Purportedly rendering them appropriate for audiences ‘of a friendly nation’, this practise resulted in one of the harshest censorship systems in the Western world. Filmmaker Sari Braithwaite spent years sifting through the National Archives that hold these forbidden snippets, which were for so long denied to Australian filmgoers without their knowledge. In [CENSORED], Braithwaite presents her most notable findings in the form of a video essay. The clips are interspersed with narration by Braithwaite in which she recounts the emotional journey of making the documentary, as well as her consequent reflections upon image, gender and spectatorship.

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Image source: Adelaide Film Festival

Apparently, I walked into [CENSORED] with the same preconceptions the filmmaker herself held before she started viewing the clips: that the archive would contain the expected scenes of sex, violence and homosexuality, and that the censorship of each of the scenes was a shameful act. Although I understand the pull Braithwaite felt to shift away from that black-and-white approach, I found myself frustrated by the generalisations and obvious points that she made. The fact that men dominated the film industry of the time, and that their lenses often purposefully captured and pandered to the male gaze is one that a viewer can discern without being subjected to uncomfortably long montages depicting woman after woman being beaten, or peeping toms peeping. That time might’ve been better spent focussing upon more unusual finds or exploring other points more deeply.

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Image source: Adelaide Film Festival

Though Braithwaite emphasised her decision to not re-contextualise the censored scenes for fear of validating gratuitous sex and violence, the audience was not given enough information to assess the soundness of this decision – we did need more context and nuance. Acts of domestic violence, for example, can certainly be utilised in meaningful films as a matter of dramatic necessity. It would have been much more interesting to further explore the ways in which the Censorship Board maimed significant and well-made films, and so patronised the Australian public. Only a few brief examples of this were featured in [CENSORED], including from Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin Féminin (1966), Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966) and D.A. Pennebaker’s Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back (1967).     

Additionally, Braithwaite’s narration lacked passion and spontaneity- at times is just sounded as if she was whinging. Some documentation (as opposed to recounting) of her trips to the archives or an interview format in which her speech was delivered without aid of a script might have aided in engaging the audience in her experience of creating [CENSORED].

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Image source: Adelaide Film Festival

I enjoyed this film for the slice of history it shed light on (particularly the quotes taken from publications of the Censorship Board itself), the few moments of quality cinema it brought back to life in an original way, and some of its creator’s musings upon the power of cinema.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Katerina Grypma

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