Censorship of Ken Park (2002)

KEN PARK was first banned on DVD in 2003 before being refused a film festival exemption. A subsequent appeal failed.

It has never been resubmitted, so remains Refused Classification in Australia.

Ken Park

Directed by Larry Clark – Edward Lachman / 2002 / USA – Netherlands – France / IMDb

On 21 May 2003, a 92-minute VHS of KEN PARK was banned by the OFLC.

The applicant, MRA Entertainment Group, had intended to release it on DVD.

May 2003
The Classification Board has classified the film KEN PARK, by directors Larry Clark and Ed Lachman, Refused Classification (RC). The classification means the film cannot be legally sold, hired, advertised or exhibited in Australia.

The film is about four teenagers as they struggle with family dysfunction and uncertain futures in suburban California.

In a 6 to 1 split decision, the majority of the Classification Board found this film warranted refused classification “RC”. In the minority view the film could have been accommodated in the “R18+” classification.

In the Classification Board’s view, this film deals with matters of sex in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that it should be refused classification.

In the Classification Board’s view, the film contains scenes of actual sexual activity involving characters who are portrayed as minors that could not be accommodated within the “R18+”classification. The “R18+” classification permits material that is high in impact. The intensity, cumulative effect, tone and treatment of the scenes of actual sexual activity exceeded this impact test.

The Classification Board is an independent statutory body responsible for the classification of films, videos, computer games and some publications. The Board has representatives drawn from communities across Australia and includes members with children.

– Classification Board

Festival screening in-doubt

KEN PARK had already been programmed to play at the 50th Sydney Film Festival (SFF). The screenings were due to take place on June 17 and 18 at the State Theatre.

The SFF went ahead and applied for a film festival exemption. On May 28, it was rejected due to it already having been Refused Classification.

May 31, 2003
The festival’s president, Cathy Robinson, was upset and angry at the decision.

“The critical issue is about the role of a film festival,” she said.

Any festival-goer seeing KEN PARK, which she described as a significant film dealing with social issues affecting young adults, had to be over 18.

Ms Robinson said it was ironic that the 50th festival was seeing a return to the censorship controversies that dogged the festival in the past. In 1969, there was a storm when the Swedish film I LOVE, YOU LOVE was banned for showing a pregnant woman having sex.

“We’ve reached our 50th event and we’re still dealing with the same kind of issues as festivals past,” she said.

The director of the festival, Gayle Lake, described KEN PARK as a groundbreaking film that should not be banned.

“Yes, the film is controversial. Yes, it will divide audiences. But it should be seen and it should be debated.”

– Banned – the film on teenage life too hot for Australia
article @ smh.com.au

Failed appeal

With the screening date approaching, the Sydney Film Festival decided to challenge the decision of the Classification Board.

The first, against the RC rating was agreed to and set for June 6. The original applicant, MRA Entertainment Group was not involved, however, SFF was considered ‘a person aggrieved’.

The second, against the rejection of a film festival exemption was unable to be considered as it was outside the Review Board’s jurisdiction. This was the first time such a request had been made.

June 6, 2003
A three-member panel of the Classification Review Board met today and in the majority determined that the film, KEN PARK is Refused Classification. This decision upholds the decision of the Classification Board.

Refused Classification means the film cannot be legally sold, hired, advertised or exhibited in Australia.

In the Review Board’s majority opinion, the film warrants a refusal of classification because it contains elements beyond those set out in the classification guidelines and legislation. In making its decision, the Review Board took into account written and oral submissions by the applicant, the Sydney Film Festival. The film depicted scenes of sex and violence in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that it warranted Refused Classification status. These included scenes of child sexual abuse, actual sex by people depicted as minors and sexualised violence.

In reviewing the classification of KEN PARK, the Review Board worked within the framework, and applied the provisions of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, the National Classification Code, and the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games.

The Review Board is an independent review tribunal. It meets in camera to hear applications for review of decisions of the Classification Board.

– Classification Review Board Determines KEN PARK Refused Classification
– Classification Review Board

June 6, 2003
23-33 Mary Street, Surry Hills, NSW

Ms Maureen Shelley (Convenor)
Mr Jonathan O’Dea
Ms Kathryn Smith

Sydney Film Festival

To review the Classification Board’s decision to classify the film KEN PARK Refused Classification (RC) under the ‘Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995’


1. Decision

The Classification Review Board (the Review Board) confirmed the decision of the Classification Board and decided to classify the film KEN PARK RC.

2. Legislative provisions

The ‘Classification (Publications, Film and Computer Games) Act 1995’ (the Classification Act) governs the classification of films and the review of classification decisions. Section 9 of the Classification Act provides that films are to be classified in accordance with the National Classification Code (the Code) and the classification guidelines.

Relevantly, section 11 of the Classification Act requires that the matters to be taken into account in making a decision on the classification of a film include:

(a) the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults; and

(b) the literary, artistic or educational merit (if any) of the film; and

(c) the general character of the film, including whether it is of a medical, legal or scientific character; and

(d) the persons or class of persons to or amongst whom it is published or is intended or likely to be published.

The Code states that films which “depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex” and “violence” “in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified” are to be classified RC refused classification.

3. Procedure

The Review Board was dealing with an application for sale or hire and not for a film festival application. The original applicants, MRA Entertainment had lodged an application for classification of KEN PARK for sale or hire (as a video).

A separate application for exemption for a film festival was lodged with the Director of the Classification Board by the Sydney Film Festival (“the Applicant”) under the NSW Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Enforcement Act 1995.

The Review Board was asked by the Applicant to review the decision of the Director. Because the power of the Review Board is limited to reviewing determinations of the Classification Board made under the Commonwealth Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 it found that a review of the application for exemption for a film festival was not within its jurisdiction.

The Applicant lodged an application for review in relation to the determination by the Classification Board of an RC classification in respect of the application made by MRA Entertainment. The Board considered that the Applicant was a person aggrieved because it wished to exhibit KEN PARK at the 2003 Sydney Film Festival.

Three members of the Review Board viewed the film at the Review Board’s meeting on 6 June 2003.

The Review Board received a written application for review and supporting written submission from the Applicant. Mr Ross Tzannes made a verbal submission on behalf of the Applicant and submitted further written material.

The Review Board then met in camera to consider the matter.

4. Evidence and other material taken into account

In reaching its decision the Review Board had regard to the following:

(i) the applicant’s application for review (including written and oral submissions);

(ii) the report of the Classification Board relating to KEN PARK ;

(iii) Report of the New Zealand Office of Film and Literature Classification relating to KEN PARK;

(iv) the film KEN PARK;

(v) the relevant provisions in the Classification Act;

(vi) the relevant provisions in the Code, as amended in accordance with section 6 of the Classification Act; and

(vii) the ‘Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games’, as amended in accordance with section 12 of the Classification Act.

5. Synopsis

The film KEN PARK shows four non-adult teenagers, Shawn, Tate, Peaches and Claude, and their friends, parents and neighbourhood, as they negotiate their lives in a contemporary, and somewhat dysfunctional society. It showcases the teenagers’ interactions with their parents, or parent figures; their own fears and insecurities; their use of drugs and alcohol; their participation in sex with each other and others and their success or failure to negotiate the obstacles that face them and their friends.

6. Findings on material questions of fact

The Review Board found that KEN PARK contains:

(a) scenes which depict actual sex, and a fetish

(b) a number of “high impact” scenes

(c) several “High Impact” Themes

(d) scenes which depict child sexual abuse and sexualised violence and deal with matters of sex and violence in a way which offends against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults

These findings are explained below.

The Review Board is assisted by a detailed and informative report from the Classification Board relating to KEN PARK. In these reasons the Board adopts some of the descriptions made by the Classification Board in relation to certain critical scenes as it found those descriptions to be accurate.

Finding that the KEN PARK contains scenes which depict actual sex and a fetish

In relation to the scenes at 54 minutes and 83 minutes.

The Classification Board report states

’54 mins – After having taken a bathrobe belt from the bathroom, Tate returns to his bedroom, where he has been watching women’s tennis on his television. He loops the belt around the doorknob and tests it around his neck before putting a pillow against the door, taking off his underwear, leaning back, and wrapping the belt around his neck. He then engages in explicit auto-erotic asphyxiation as he is aroused by the women’s tennis match in the background. The shots of Tate range from close ups of his genitals as he explicitly masturbates or his face to medium full length body shots. The tennis players are heard grunting as they play. At 55 minutes the camera focuses on his face as he implicitly orgasms and then pans down to his penis (which he still holds), with a semen trail. His eyes are closed.’

The Review Board noted that Tate tugs at the belt around his neck throughout this two minute scene.

’83 mins – A four minute sequence involving Shawn, Peaches and Claude commences with the three of them lying naked on a bed, Peaches between the two young men [sic]. They fondle and kiss. At 83 minutes there is obscured fellatio and rear entry intercourse (the latter by Claude to Peaches, who is implicitly fellating Shawn) seen in a medium shot. The side view scene shows Claude thrusting and her [Peaches] head in Shawn’s lap. The scene is inter cut with their post coital ruminations as they lie back and chat. At 84 minutes there is an explicit shot of Peaches’ tongue on Shawn’s penis and then an obscured shot of Shawn giving cunnilingus to Peaches. At 85 minutes there is a shot of an erect penis in-between Peaches’ thighs, with some movement visible. The camera shot is only of her thigh area. Then there is a long shot of Peaches seated astride Claude. They kiss as she moves up and down. Shawn is standing nearby at the kitchen counter, flipping through a magazine and watching them. At 86 minutes there is a medium shot focusing on Shawn’s buttocks as he thrusts, followed by Peaches’ hand over Claude’s penis as she explicitly fellates him. There is a saliva trail visible between her mouth and his erect penis as she lifts her head up. There is then a shot of Claude’s hand in slow motion masturbating Peaches, including some digital penetration. The camera pans up from her thighs up her body and ending in a three-quarter length shot. Shawn licks her nipples as Claude masturbates her.’

The Review Board noted that, contrary to what is stated in a report from the New Zealand Office of Film and Literature Classification (the Classification Office) submitted by Mr Tzannes, this scene was romanticised and appeared choreographed. Mr Tzannes submitted the Written Reason for Decision Section 12 from the NZ Classification Office. He said that the decision showed that the film had serious merit and was worthy of serious discussion.

The Review Board noted that the NZ report states:

“Though the activity [the reference here is to the scenes of sexual activity] is depicted explicitly, it is not shown in graphic detail or in close up but more as observational, and does not present as being choreographed merely for the sake of the viewer.”

Contrary to this view the Review Board found that the sex scenes were detailed (erect penises, semen or mucous trails, open vagina) and there were shots in close up. The Review Board noted that the scene at 83 minutes

– Had an overlaid sound track of relaxed Van Morrison-style music – in contrast to the skate punk and alternative music played by the characters when they were listening to music;

– Was bathed in a mellow golden light which lent considerable romantic atmosphere; and

– The movements of the participants appeared graceful and at times balletic and the scene seemed choreographed.

It was a visually appealing, romanticised scene depicting three attractive teenagers participating in extended sex and sexual play. The Review Board found that the scene contained actual sex in that it depicted actual digital penetration.

Finding that KEN PARK contains a number of “High Impact” Scenes

There were several scenes throughout the film that were of high impact. These are detailed within the Classification Board’s report and took place at 17 minutes, 39 minutes and 50 minutes.

The Classification Board report states:

’17 mins – Shawn and his girlfriend’s mother, Rhonda, are lying on her bed. She lies back with her legs up as he engages in obscured masturbation and cunnilingus with her.’

’39 mins – Rhonda puts her hand down Shawn’s briefs and implicitly masturbates him. The camera pans up to them kissing before again showing her hand moving under his pants.’

’50 mins – Side view of the genital areas of Peaches and Curtis as he lies with his wrists tied to the bedhead. She first rubs his clothed crotch area, after which she implicitly puts her finger into her vagina and then into his mouth. There is a brief shot of Curtis’ erect penis. Peaches then implicitly fellates him. Her father enters the room and, horrified, throws his daughter from the bed. He hits Curtis’ head, grabs his neck and shakes the young man’s [sic] head aggressively. Peaches is on the floor, sobbing and screaming at her father to stop.’

In addition to these scenes, another of high impact took place at 1 minute when a teen boy, whom we later learn is KEN PARK, sitting at a skate park smiles, holds a gun to his head and shoots himself. There is blood spray as the shot is heard. The camera pulls back to show a panoramic scene of the teenager lying prone on the ground with blood pooling around his head and other teenagers and younger children – mostly young boys – standing around looking at his body.

At 120 minutes Claude’s father is shown urinating into a toilet. He removes his trousers, his penis is shown, the sound of urination is heard, the camera moves closer to the penis and the urination stream is shown. At approximately 1 minute in duration, the scene is prolonged and gratuitously detailed.

Finding that KEN PARK contains several “High Impact” Themes

In addition to particular scenes of high impact, the film contains several themes of high impact. These were

a) psychological abuse of children by their parents (Claude with his brutal father and Peaches with her morbidly-obsessed religious father),

b) neglect by parents of their children (Rhonda with her younger daughter – who is depicted as about 5 years old put in front of a TV watching what appears as first to be porn a movie but what we discover later to be the Playboy channel – whilst Rhonda has sex with her older daughter’s boyfriend upstairs) and

c) the misuse of power by a clearly disturbed teen over his frail grandparents (Tate’s verbal and physical abuse of his grandmother and grandfather).

Whilst these themes of themselves would not necessarily warrant an “R” classification, they add to the overall impact of the film ensuring – in addition to the high impact and very high impact scenes – that the film is very confronting.

Finding that KEN PARK contains scenes which depict child sexual abuse and sexualised violence and deal with matters of sex and violence in a way which offends against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults

The Review Board considered that the cumulative impact of the scenes at 54 minutes, 69 minutes, 75 minutes and 83 minutes depict or deal with matters of sex and violence in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults. The Review Board found that this impact was such that the film can not be classified.

The Classification Board’s report states

’69 mins – Claude is asleep in his bed. His drunken father enters his room and crawls into bed next to him. He [the father] then gets up and sits at the end of Claude’s bed, at which point he starts stroking Claude’s calf and inside knee. His son’s sleep is disrupted and he stirs restlessly at the contact. The father puts his hand up the left leg of Claude’s boxer shorts and puts his head down, either implicitly fellating or attempting to fellate. The angle is from behind the father’s head. Claude wakes and struggles, throwing him [the father] off the bed. His father says “it’s okay Claude, it’s just me Dad”, before he [the father] falls to the ground. He comments “nobody loves me” as his son leaves the room.’

’75 mins – In a flashback sequence Tate walks, naked, to the kitchen, where he cuts a piece of cake and eats it as he walks into his grandparents’ bedroom with the cake knife. As they lie asleep, he implicitly stabs his grandfather twice. The motions are seen and there is some blood spray and blood visible on the grandfather’s face but there is no visible entry wound. He [Tate] comments that “the skin was thick, like leather. He twitched a little, like a chicken”. He then implicitly stabs his grandmother, again with no injury detail. Before he kills her she says “I love you Tate”. He comments “she’s a passive aggressive bitch who doesn’t respect my privacy.” After he kills them he is heard in voice-over saying “then I saw them like that, I started to get an erection. Then Legs started barking and I went soft”.’

In addition, the scene at 69 minutes where Claude’s father attempts to fellate his son, or implicitly fellates his son, is one that depicts child sex abuse. Claude’s father has his hands inside his son’s boxer shorts in the groin area. The fly of the shorts is open. Claude is depicted in the film as a teenage schoolboy.

Also the scene at 75 minutes where a naked Tate implicitly stabs his grandparents and is shown with blood spatter on his face as he narrates – in flashback – that he “started to get an erection” is one of sexualised violence.

Claude and Tate like the other teenage characters in KEN PARK are depicted as being of school age. They are shown getting on to the school bus with their schoolbags. They are intended to represent teenage schoolchildren. Mr Tzannes said in his evidence that the characters were depicted as 15 to 17 year olds. The Board found that none of the teenage characters was depicted as an adult

7. Reasons for the decision

In reaching its decision to refuse classification for KEN PARK the Review Board took particular note of the Code in regard to films section 1 (a). The Code states that films which “depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex” and “violence” “in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified” are to be classified RC refused classification.

In addition, the Guidelines state in the R classification that “sexual activity may be realistically simulated. The general rule is ‘simulation, yes – the real thing, no’.” The Guidelines state that for the X classification “No depiction of violence, sexual violence, sexualised violence or coercion is allowed in this category”. Further the Guidelines for X state “As the category is restricted to activity between consenting adults, it does not permit any depictions of non-adult persons, including those aged 16 or 17, nor of adult persons who look like they are under 18 years. Nor does it permit persons 18 years of age or over to be portrayed as minors”. Under the Refused Classification section of the Guidelines, it states:

“Films and computer games will be refused classification if they include or contain any of the following” under the headings crime and violence “Depictions of child sexual abuse” and later under the heading of sex “Gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of: (i) sexual activity accompanied by fetishes or practices which are offensive or abhorrent”.

There was no evidence before the Board about the actual age of the actors in KEN PARK, nevertheless the Board found the actors were depicting characters who were not adults and so the actual age of the actors was not relevant.

It was the Review Board’s determination that the scenes at 54 minutes, 69 minutes, 75 minutes and 83 minutes were of a cumulative impact such that they exceeded material that could be accommodated in the R classification. The Review Board noted that the film could not be accommodated in the “X” classification as the Code does not allow for “violence” “sexualized violence” “or fetishes”. A number of the scenes detailed contained these elements including those at 1 minute, 54minutes and 75 minutes.

Additionally, the Guidelines state “films and computer games will be refused classification if they include or contain any of the following” and a list is given which includes “depictions of child sexual abuse”. It was the Review Board’s determination that the scene at 69 minutes was such a scene. It was prolonged and contained gratuitous detail. In addition that scene and the other depictions of sexual activity depicted non-adult persons (that is people under 18 years). The X guidelines exclude the depiction of sexual activity involving non-adult persons or adult persons who look like they are under 18 years.

The Review Board noted Mr Tzannes’ very cogent arguments in relation to the principles within the Code and section 11 (b) and (c) of the Act. It also noted the applicant’s submission in regard to the educational merit of the film, the social justice agenda of the film maker and the film’s “gritty, naturalistic Dickensian” approach to the issues facing the teenagers depicted.

The Review Board determined that the film had some artistic and potential educational merit in facilitating debate or discussion upon important social issues.

However, the Review Board determined, in the majority, that the masturbation scene at 54 minutes was prolonged and contained elements, such as the use of the asphyxiation device and a “semen trail”, which were gratuitous and offensive. Also the prolonged sex scene at 83 minutes depicts actual sex in that it contains actual digital penetration. It also contains detail of a penis with mucous trail – possibly semen or possibly saliva, and views of an open vagina during digital stimulation. Some of the details within this scene were considered gratuitous.

It was the determination of the Review Board that, despite the film making a serious attempt to grapple with issues facing many teenagers and having significant artistic merit, the cumulative impact of several scenes was more than what could be accommodated in an R classification for a “sale or hire” classification review application. Two of the relevant scenes contained actual sex. One of the sex scenes included details of a fetish, namely auto-erotic asphyxiation. Another scene depicted child sex abuse.

The Review Board noted that the application for review was for sale or hire (as a video). Under section 11 of the Act the intended audience of the film is relevant. The Review Board noted that for a sale or hire application, as contrasted with a film festival audience with a single restricted screening, the audience is much broader and the screening of the film less controlled.

Overall the purpose, tone, treatment and cumulative effect of the various elements already identified (including numerous scenes that appear prolonged or contained gratuitous detail) result in a higher overall impact such that the film should be refused classification.

8. Summary

The Review Board found that the film contained elements beyond that which could be accommodated in R or X and the film was Refused Classification.

– Classification Review Board report

The fight continues

Had KEN PARK not have been submitted by MRA Entertainment Group, then it would have been likely that the Director of the Classification Board would have granted it film festival exemption.

The 50th Sydney Film Festival opened on June 6, the day of the Classification Review Board decision. The SBS TV report is available on YouTube.

June 9, 2003
A decision to maintain the ban on the controversial American film KEN PARK was greeted by boos and hisses at the Sydney Film Festival yesterday.

The festival’s director, Gayle Lake, told the State Theatre audience that the board and staff were incensed by a classification review panel’s decision.

“We cannot let this happen,” she said, and urged festival-goers to lobby federal and state attorneys-general to overturn the ban.

Ms Lake said that since the film had its first showing, at the Venice Film Festival last year, it had been screened at numerous international festivals and released commercially in parts of Europe. It was also due to be shown at a festival in New Zealand next week.

“It seems ironic that in the festival’s 50th year, we are still fighting censorship battles.”.

In response to an audience question, Ms Lake suggested the festival could still screen KEN PARK next week to protest against the decision. The move was “under consideration”.

The reference to child sexual abuse [by the Classification Review Board] infuriated the festival’s president, Cathy Robinson, who accused the panel of introducing an emotive issue that confused the debate.

As the audience had to be over 18, she believed there were no grounds for banning KEN PARK. But she played down the prospect of a protest screening because of the risk to the festival.

Unless the decision is overturned by the federal Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, it will be the first time in more than 30 years that a selected film has been banned.

– Censors’ film ban creates a scene
article @ smh.com.au

Despite the failure of their appeal, the Sydney Film Festival continued to try to obtain permission to show the film.

June 10, 2003
The Sydney Film Festival Director Gayle Lake responded over the opening weekend of the Festival to the decision of the Classification Review Board to uphold the decision of the Classification Board to refuse classification to the film KEN PARK, which means that the Sydney Film Festival is banned from screening the film on 17 & 18 June as scheduled:

“The Sydney Film Festival is disappointed by the decision and extremely surprised that, in making its decision, the Classification Review Board refers to scenes of ‘child sexual abuse’. Child sexual abuse was not cited in the original decision of the Classification Board and the Sydney Film Festival is seeking clarification as to the use of this terminology, as the film depicts youths of 16 or 17 years of age who are portrayed by actors over the age of 18”

The nature of the film and of the scenes causing concern can be gauged from the attached quotations from the decision of the New Zealand Classification Office which permitted the film to be screened at film festivals there. Gayle Lake went on to tell audiences that “Anybody familiar with Larry Clark’s work will know what to expect from his latest film. It is tough and confronting, however, it has been cleared for festival screenings worldwide, including Rotterdam, Venice and Toronto. It is actually in commercial release in Spain, Russia, Denmark and a number of other European countries and is expected to go into release in the US later this year”

You, as a discerning and adult audience will be denied the opportunity to make up your own minds about the film. We are asking festival-goers to help us in our campaign to allow KEN PARK to be screened next week. You can help by emailing or faxing the Federal and NSW Attorney Generals asking them to grant exemption to the

Sydney Film Festival to screen the film to a festival audience. It seems ironic that in the 50th year we are still fighting censorship battles. Some of the concessions won in the past have been withdrawn and we are back in a situation of defending the festival’s role of screening groundbreaking, provocative work that pushes the boundaries.

Your support is much appreciated — details of email and fax numbers are below.
The Hon. Daryl Williams AM, QC,
MP Federal Attorney General
Email: daryl.williams.MP@aph.gov.au
Fax: (02) 6273 4102
Postal address: House of Representatives, Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600

THE Hon. (Bob) Robert John Debus,
MP NSW Attorney General
Email: bob.debus@minister.nsw.gov.au
Fax: 9228 3166
Ministerial Office Postal address: PO Box A290, Sydney South 1232

Sydney Film Festival

SFF out of options

Unfortunately, the Sydney Film Festival’s protest was not enough to allow KEN PARK to be shown.

On the day before the first planned screening, they announced the following.

June 16, 2003
The Sydney Film Festival today announced that it will not screen the film KEN PARK. The film has been refused classification by the Office of Film & Literature Classification and the Board of Review.

The Festival has exhausted all avenues of appeal.

The Festival this morning received a letter from the State Attorney General Bob Debus which said:

“The situation at law is complicated. It is unprecedented that a film festival has requested an exemption for a film that has been classified RC. Festival Guidelines, agreed to by State and Territory Censorship Ministers, clearly state that films that have been either classified X or RC(Refused Classification) will not be granted an exemption to be shown at a film festival. These Festival Guidelines have the status of an intergovernmental agreement and I am under an obligation to uphold the terms of this agreement. I regret therefore that I am not in a position to direct that an exemption be granted for KEN PARK to be shown at the Sydney Film Festival.”

Sydney Film Festival Director Gayle Lake said that, despite calls from some Festival patrons to screen KEN PARK regardless of the ban, the Festival Board had decided that an illegal screening would be counter-productive.

“Not only would such a screening be illegal with all the consequences that entails, but it could also affect the future status of the Festival. Our focus is not just on the issues surrounding this particular film, but on the broader issues of censorship, the classification process and the parameters of the current set of festival guidelines. Reaching the decision not to screen the film was very difficult and I am extremely disappointed that our adult Festival patrons won’t have the opportunity to see and debate the film,” Ms Lake said.

KEN PARK was scheduled to screen at the State Theatre on Tuesday and Wednesday. Festival director Gayle Lake announced that in place of the screenings a public forum and debate on censorship will be held at the State Theatre on Tuesday 17. On Wednesday, the acclaimed feature American Splendor – a hit at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival– will screen in place of KEN PARK.

The Sydney Film Festival, lobby group Watch on Censorship (WOC) and the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA) will jointly present the forum on censorship and the challenge to the ‘approved organisations’ status of Australia’s film festivals at 3pm on Tuesday June 17 at the State Theatre. Co-director of KEN PARK, Larry Clark, will speak via satellite and other panellists are Margaret Pomeranz representing WOC, Julie Rigg representing FCCA and former Deputy Chief Censor David Haines. Journalist and WOC representative David Marr will chair the forum.

Sydney Film Festival

The director speaks

Larry Clark’s’ KIDS (1995), had attracted controversy overseas but was awarded an R (Adult themes, Sexually explicit language, Drug use) by the Classification Board in October 1995.

Here he is on the Australian problems of his latest feature.

June 16, 2003
LARRY CLARK: One thing I will say to everybody in Australia… that if you ever get a chance to see this film, you’re going to realise this is a serious film. I think, I think that it’s my best work.

PETA DONALD: Two scenes caught the attention of the Australian classifiers. One where a person’s being strangled with a bathrobe and masturbating, and another where three adult actors, playing characters under-18 have sex. The classification board in a six to one decision, ruled the scenes of actual sex meant it had to be refused classification. A review board unanimously upheld the ruling.

Film director Larry Clark says it might look real, but in fact it’s not, and anyway his film is about much more than teenage sex.

LARRY CLARK: This is a story about, you know, about families, about parents and children. This is a story about human beings at this point in time in the world.

PETA DONALD: What is the point of those scenes, of having those scenes in the film where these actors playing under-aged kids have sex?

LARRY CLARK: Because this is about kids and parents and it’s about kids, who are, whose… it’s all about kids where the adults are using the kids in the most inappropriate ways to try to, you know, fulfil their own emotional needs, and their own emotional emptiness, and at the end of the day there’s nothing for the kids. The kids are getting nothing so they only have each other.

PETA DONALD: What will Australian viewers miss out on by not seeing KEN PARK?

LARRY CLARK: Well, I think they’re going to miss out on seeing a very good film, but I think it goes deeper than that, that seven people can tell the whole country what you can see as an adult and what you can’t see.

Sydney Film Festival Director Gayle Lake.
GAYLE LAKE: It is fair to say that the ill wind of conservatism is getting a lot chillier.

PETA DONALD: How would you sum up the feeling among the film critics and the film goers there at the Sydney Film Festival?

GAYLE LAKE: They’re very upset and, you know, at being denied the opportunity to see the film and make up their own mind, basically.

John Dickie [former Director of the OFLC]
…those who decide what Australians can and can’t see are on the Board representing the community, and once a film contains actual sex, being refused classification is pretty much automatic under guidelines agreed to by Federal and State governments.

PETA DONALD: Do you believe that the current Office of Film and Literature Classification and the current Board are more conservative than they have been in the past?

JOHN DICKIE: I think that’s an allegation that’s made about all boards, I think, when decisions go one way or the other. I think only 12 months ago, when the current board passed ROMANCE, I think there were a whole host of people who were saying that they were being far too lenient. So I think there are always different groups who’ve got a different perspective of what the decisions are.

– Film censorship causes uproar at Sydney Film Festival
article @ abc.net.au

Censorship forum

KEN PARK was due to premiere in Australia on June 17th. Following the ban, it was replaced by a forum where David Marr was joined by eight guests. Larry Clark was present via satellite.

Senses of Cinema have a transcript of the event, select comments are reproduced below.

June 17, 2003
Ross Tzannes (Watch on Censorship)
On appeal, we became very concerned because it meant we couldn’t show it either. Our first attempt was to try and get the Office to agree that it could be argued on the basis of festival exemption, but they wouldn’t buy that and understandably so. They informed us that the only decision that we could argue was whether the film can be sold for sale or hire, so we were forced into the situation of having to argue in effect these distributors case for them.

It went on to a hearing for the Board of Review, it was a very long hearing, several hours, in which there was a 3-person review, and the film was talked about in context, out of context, almost frame by frame, every issue was teased out and at the end of that process I was pleasantly surprised that it actually persuaded 1 of the 3 that the film could be screened not only at the Festival but for sale/hire at home.

Maureen Shelly (Convenor of the Review Board)
The Classification Review Board took 11.5 hours to reach the decision that we did so we gave the matter very serious consideration and spent literally hours going over Ross’ arguments, which we took extremely seriously.

David Haines (former Deputy Chief Censor)
When the new legislation for festivals was drawn up, which commenced on 1 Jan 1996, it seemed that festivals had been allowed to be exempt from the classification system. There were some voices of warning. It’s pretty obvious now that the exemption provisions are not worth to quote that expert on filmic merit, Senator Julie McGowan, “a hill of beans.” It has to be said that festivals to a large extent have only themselves to blame because when the Censorship Ministers endorsed the draft festival exemption guidelines in ’96, the officials were requested to distribute for comment those guidelines and they were sent out to 24 organisations, only one responded. I suspect that’s to do with the fact that festivals are always very busy, short-staffed and have more important things to think about. But it’s a shame that more attention wasn’t paid to the festival exemptions at the time.

As was established clearly in ’95, public exhibition standards now apply to festival films; we’ve already heard that films classified RC or X are not permitted to be shown at festivals. There is the old argument, why should festivals be treated as an elitist group but I think there are very good reasons why festivals should be allowed to screen films like KEN PARK, which may or may not warrant public exhibition.

The only avenue for a film like KEN PARK now, hopeless as it is because it involves politicians, is for the State Minister responsible, in this case, the NSW Attorney General, to direct the director of the OFLC to grant an exemption to the film and if it’s a matter of getting the print into the country, it’s within the powers of the Federal Attorney General to grant an exemption to the Customs Act that bans films which have been refused classification. So there is a mechanism there which would allow the film to be brought in but it relies entirely on the good will, in fact the political will, of those two Attorneys, the Federal and State.

David Marr (Chair)
As I understand it, that course of action – to get the NSW Attorney General to direct the OFLC director to grant exemption – was attempted and failed.

– Censorship Forum at the Sydney Film Festival
article @ sensesofcinema.com

Plans for the future

The NSW Attorney-General, Bob Debus (Labor) was also unhappy and proposed to push for RC films to be able to screen at future festivals.

June 18, 2003
Mr Debus said he was worried about the effect on the festival’s status by the ban on the controversial American drama.

“I consider that eminent film festivals such as the Sydney Film Festival should be enabled to screen films to an adult audience, even in circumstances where the film has been refused classification,” he said in a letter to the festival.

Mr Debus said he would propose the change to state and territory censorship ministers. He hoped “a broad general exemption” would be operating in time for next year’s festival.

Mr Debus said he would propose the change to state and territory censorship ministers. He hoped “a broad general exemption” would be operating in time for next year’s festival.

At a forum on censorship that replaced the planned screening, the president of the lobby group Watch on Censorship, MOVIE SHOW presenter Margaret Pomeranz, said she believed KEN PARK deserved an MA 15+ rating because of its educational value. “It talks more to the kids than it does to adults. It’s about kids who are living in these dreadful family situations who find one another. In a way, it’s a nourishing film for them.”

The convener of the Classification Review Board, Maureen Shelley, defended the appeal decision, saying there were at least four sex scenes that contributed to “a very high impact”.

The Australian Screen Directors Association called for an urgent review of the OFLC’s guidelines.

“The fact that the Sydney Film Festival is not able to screen a film that has been shown in major festivals around the world is a national disgrace and will make Australia a cultural laughing stock,” said the association’s Richard Harris.

– Debus wants festival film rethink
article @ smh.com.au

No show in Victoria

The 52nd Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) planned to screen KEN PARK, but it was dropped following the issues in Sydney.

June 26, 2003
MIFF director James Hewison would not rule out taking action in a bid to show the film, but conceded it was unlikely to be successful before the 19-day festival opens on July 23.

Mr Hewison said it has been released commercially in other major global markets.

“The film is exaggerated, but it’s exaggerated to portray a moral system in decay,” Mr Hewison said.

“We are talking to our legal advisers to see what action is possible.

“Realistically and I suppose pragmatically it’s decidedly unlikely (to be in the festival) but eventually there may be other opportunities for it to get screened.”

– Ken hits back at censor
article @ smh.com.au

Balmain screening announced

In late June, a group called Free Cinema announced they would be having an over 18’s screening KEN PARK at Balmain Town Hall on July 3.

June 27, 2003
Free Cinema includes the film maker and activist Martha Ansara, SBS film critic Margaret Pomeranz, and Leichhardt’s Deputy Mayor, Jamie Parker.

Cr Parker said many members of the group, which is not connected with the Sydney Film Festival, were “not interested in seeing the film but concerned about the issue of censorship”.

He said he was involved as “a concerned individual who believes there are important matters of principle regarding censorship”.

It was likely that police would turn up to the 8.15pm discussion and screening and shut it down, but it was vital to “raise the issue and promote debate”, he said.

Lawyer Ross Tzannes, who argued the case for KEN PARK before the Censorship Review Board, said the banning was the first since I LOVE, YOU LOVE in 1969, which led to the Customs Minister, Don Chipp, introducing exemptions from classification for film festivals on certain conditions, such as not admitting anyone under age and “acting responsibly”.

However, the exemptions had been codified in 1996 “without fanfare”, Mr Tzannes said, allowing films to be exempt unless they would attract an RC rating.

He said he was concerned that if Free Cinema organised a public screening, “the merits [of the film] won’t be argued but only whether they should be screening a classified film”.

The penalty for doing so was a fine of up to $10,000 for an individual or 12 months’ jail, he said.

– Group to defy censors and show banned film
article @ smh.com.au

The article alerted Fred Nile, the guardian of NSW’s morals, who was soon complaining to the police.

June 30, 2003
The Commander, Superintendent Katsogiannis
NSW Police, Leichhardt-Glebe Local Area Command
1 Talfourd Street, Glebe NSW 2037
Fax: 02 9552 8039

Re: Screening of banned film KEN PARK at Balmain Townhall

Superintendent Katsogiannis

I wish to make an official complaint concerning the proposed deliberate public screening of the banned film, KEN PARK, by the group Free Cinema on Thursday evening July 3rd at 8.15pm at the Balmain Town Hall.

As the film has been refused classification by the Office of Film and Literature Classification I request that you take immediate action to prevent the screening of this film and charge the organisers of this event should they purposefully break the law.

Yours sincerely
(Rev) Fred Nile MLC
Parliament House

– To: Superintendent Katsogiannis
– To: Ken Maroney, NSW Police Commissioner
– From: Fred Nile (Christian Democrat)

Secret Australian premiere

By mid-2003, KEN PARK was already available on various torrent sites. However, obtaining it was extremely slow for most people. Broadband was still expensive and was a couple of years away from widespread take-up in Australia. This prompted groups to protest the ban by holding public screenings of illegally downloaded copies.

The first was in Melbourne to an audience of between forty and fifty people. A group calling themselves the Orifice of Film and Literature Titillation screened it on July 1st at the Irene Community Arts Warehouse in Brunswick.

July 3, 2003
PETA DONALD: It’s the job of state police to enforce the federal laws on film classification. New South Wales’ police are aware of tonight’s event, and their minister says they’ll enforce the law. But Sydney has been pipped at the post.

PETA DONALD: KEN PARK has already been screened in a cold Melbourne warehouse on Tuesday night to a select audience of 40, who received invitations by email.

Triple J reporter Vicki Kerrigan was there, and spoke to one of the organisers.

ORGANISER: I downloaded it.

VICKI KERRIGAN: Off the Internet?

ORGANISER: Yes, that’s right. I don’t especially want to send people into a flurry about it’s available for everybody, because it was fairly difficult to find, but yeah, that was the way we had to import it because it’s illegal to import it into this country and it could have been confiscated at customs.

VICKI KERRIGAN: Why was it important to you to screen the film?

ORGANISER: Well, I thought it was a very worthwhile film. I can understand why it would have finished the censor’s buttons in a few ways, but surely I thought the artistic merit and just the genuineness and sincerity of the film would have overridden any concerns they had, because it was totally unsensational.

– Film censorship controversy: Ken Park
article @ abc.com.au

July 5, 2003
When web programmer and media activist Adam decided to show the banned film KEN PARK earlier this week, it wasn’t simply to challenge the decision of Australia’s censorship board.

Having downloaded the film from the internet, the 26-year-old, who declined to give his full name, said he believed the Larry Clark film was worthwhile viewing.

“There were a lot of horrible things happen in it, yet the perpetrators are never demonised. You’re always forced to empathise with them, which makes it a difficult watch and it makes you question yourself because you don’t have the luxury of having to consider yourself so different to them,” he said yesterday.

Adam and a group of like-minded friends working under the name of the Orifice of Film and Literature Titillation, showed the film free in Brunswick on Tuesday night.

While the review board’s decision showed a narrow view of right and wrong, the film “pushed the censors’ buttons” because it showed sex in an unsensationalised way, Adam said.

“The censor can’t let these issues be seen on film without a strong moralistic bent being put on them, that’s the confronting thing. Not that there was an incest scene, not that there (were) people portraying minors having sex; it’s that there was no moralistic bent on them,” he said.

– ‘Unsensationalised sex’ the problem
article @ theage.com.au

Day of the Balmain screening

The proposed screening was given extensive media coverage, with the organisers making themselves available to promote the event.

July 3. 2003
KEN PARK, a film sold for general distribution in over 30 countries, has been banned in Australia. Free Cinema has organised a screening of KEN PARK in Balmain tonight to protest that banning and allow Australians to see the film for themselves.

KEN PARK is a confronting film about teenagers. It is not porn. It is not about young children. The film has been highly praised by mainstream critics. KEN PARK is the work of American director Larry Clark (KIDS, ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE and BULLY) and renowned cinematographer Ed Lachman (FAR FROM HEAVEN, ERIN BROKOVICH).

KEN PARK has been seen at the major film festivals of the world including Venice, Rotterdam, Toronto, Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Jerusalem, Vancouver and Wellington. But KEN PARK could not be shown at the Sydney and Melbourne film festivals because of the ban.

This is the first time since the darkest days of film censorship in Australia in the late 1960s that these festivals have been forbidden to show even the most confronting and controversial films.

Australia’s Review Board banned KEN PARK on 6 June, claiming it offended against Australia’s standards of ‘morality, decency and propriety’. The decision was taken by –

– Maureen Shelley, convenor of the board, former Liberal Party candidate and former CEO of the Australian Council of Businesswomen;

– Jonathan O’Dea, deputy convenor of the board, lawyer and senior insurance manager; and

– Kathryn Smith, former social worker, TAFE teacher and counsellor.

What the critics say about KEN PARK

Melbourne critic Peter Craven
The only explanation of the ban on KEN PARK is that the subjects it represents so matter of factly are intolerable to adult Australian contemplation unless they are dressed up in a tumult of moral hysteria. This is a pity because it is a profoundly adult film, at once compassionate and cold-eyed. (SMH 30 June 2003).

Movie Show SBS TV
KEN PARK does not portray underage sex, all the performers were 18 or over, it is a sad, bleak portrayal of teenage lives in California.

David Stratton
A confronting, abrasive, brutally honest depiction of the shattered lives of a group of small-town teens…Social workers would recognise these characters and situations only too well, and in its unflinching depiction of the way parents treat their children -either neglecting them, demeaning them or, in the most extreme cases, preying sexually on them – the film is unquestionably important and relevant.

James Hewison
Executive director of the Melbourne International Film Festival
“KEN PARK is Larry Clark’s most accomplished film and in many respects his most tragic”.

What the review board said about KEN PARK

“The film depicted scenes of sex and violence in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that it warranted Refused Classification status. These included scenes of child sexual abuse, actual sex by people depicted as minors and sexualised violence.”

Maureen Shelley told a forum at the Sydney Film Festival that the board had “some discretion” about allowing the depiction of actual sex but the “cumulative high impact” of KEN PARK resulted in their decision to ban it.

Important Note
The Review Board defines 16 and 17 year olds as “children”. According to director Larry Clark, actors in the film were all over 18.

Free Cinema
Is a group of critics and filmmakers who believe that:

Adults should have the right to see hear and read what they choose Children should be protected from demonstrable harm.

That the uniform classification system, designed to provide a system of consumer guidance for films, videos and other publications is being progressively and deliberately undermined by restrictive classification guidelines and their conservative application.

We believe the banning of the film KEN PARK is a case in point.

We believe KEN PARK should be shown – and we are prepared to act on that belief.

Jane Mills, Margaret Pomeranz, Julie Rigg, David Marr for Free Cinema.

Free Cinema supporters
Martha Ansara, Christina Andreef, Geoff Burton, Anne Deveson, Oa, Gary Doust, Richard Harris, Sacha Horler, Cathy Lumby, David Perry, Frank Moorehouse, Albie Thoms, Tom Zubrycki.

Countries in which KEN PARK has been sold
Hong Kong, Greece, Hungary, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Peru, Iceland, Brazil, Czech, Republic, Slovakia, Montenegro, Serbia, Finland, Thailand, Norway, Sweden, Singapore, France, Japan, Portugal, Mexico, Israel, Spain, Austria, Italy, South Africa, Plus a sale is expected to close within the next day or so for the United States and Canada.

– Free Cinema

July 3, 2003
Asked if the meeting’s organisers actually possess a copy of KEN PARK, film writer and member of the protest group Jane Mills said that she was “not sure”.

“All we are saying is that we are having a protest meeting,” she said. “We will ask what people want and explore different strategies.”

But the MOVIE SHOW’S Margaret Pomeranz, who also belongs to the protest group, said that a copy of the film did exist and that the screening would go ahead as planned.

She said the lack of confirmation on the screening was because the group had agreed to divert attention away from controversy so the film could be judged on its own merits.

“The committee said that there wasn’t going to be comment made about the screening,” Pomeranz said. “From my perspective a screening is planned.”

She said there was a long list of countries whose censorship boards had passed KEN PARK, adding: “Its even been allowed in Estonia – so far we are the only ones to ban it.”

She criticised how the film was banned by a 2-1 vote of just three board members of the Office of Film and Literature Classification.

“Effectively one person made the decision to ban this film for all of us – somewhere along the line the system is letting us down,” she said.

She said banning the film would not stop it from being shown – judging by reports today that an anonymous Melbourne group had screened it in a community arts warehouse on Tuesday after downloading it from the internet.

“Are Customs going to open every package with a DVD in it that comes into this country?” she said.

According to Mills, entrance is free to tonight’s meeting at Balmain Town Hall – next to the police station – but the organisers hope people will make a donation.

Mills also referred to rumours that there may be other illegal screenings planned by other groups in Sydney who are disgruntled at the film’s banning by the Office of Film and Literature Classification.

Author of the book “The Money Shot: Cinema Sin and Censorship” and former Head of Screen Studies at the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS), Mills said that she is prepared for the consequences, even if that meant being arrested because she believed that “nothing changes unless you force the change”.

NSW Police Minister John Watkins told ABC Radio today that police would monitor the meeting and take the necessary action.

– Ken’s big night in or out?
article @ smh.com.au

July 3, 2003
MARGARET POMERANZ: We are planning to screen the film. Whether that eventuates may not be in our hands, but we are planning to screen it so that a few more adults in this country than 10 can have a debate about the merits of the film and whether the system is letting us down

PETA DONALD: Are you prepared to be arrested?

MARGARET POMERANZ: Prepared? I mean, this is sort of like such a strange question. Yeah, I suppose so, I’m putting something on the line here, and if that involves being arrested for this, yeah I’m prepared to do it.

PETA DONALD: Sydney’s Margaret Pomeranz is not at all miffed, and she says the Melbourne screening of KEN PARK shows that issues of censorship are becoming outmoded. It’s a point rejected by Des Clark, the Director of the Office of Film and Literature Classification, who’s adamant that downloading KEN PARK is breaking the law.

DES CLARK: It doesn’t surprise me. People try hard enough they could do all sorts of things, and people break the law in all sorts of ways all the time. So, this is just another example of that.

PETA DONALD: Doesn’t it make a mockery of the classification laws in Australia that that was able to happen?

DES CLARK: Oh, absolutely not. I mean, there are always people who are going to, as I say, push the boundaries and break the law. But on the other side of it, we have market research that demonstrates that the Australian community are very supportive of the National Classification Scheme and the principles that it enshrines, and we work within that ambit of the community being broadly supportive of the system, because it provides them with very useful information.

PETA DONALD: But the fact that this group were able to download it from the Internet, that means that any one in Australia, presumably, could do that?

DES CLARK: Well, the system is largely advisory, apart from that end where there is the legal restrictions and they’re breaking the law by doing that. I mean, people rob banks as well, and do all sorts of things that are illegal and there are appropriate punishments for that. But in general terms, people don’t seek to break the law for gratuitous reasons.

– Film censorship controversy: Ken Park
article @ abc.com.au

Balmain screening stopped

The publicity worked, with over 200 people turning up at Balmain Town Hall to see the film. Unfortunately, the NSW Police also attended.

Ken Park (2002) - Balmain Town Hall, Sydney screening 1
NSW Police
Ken Park (2002) - Balmain Town Hall, Sydney screening 2
NSW Police

Around 8 pm, Margaret Pomeranz took a copy of the film from her bag. Several of the organisers jointly started the DVD and the credits began to play.

Ken Park (2002) - Balmain Town Hall, Sydney screening 3
Opening title

The police superintendent approached the group and said ‘Hello, Arthur Katsogiannis. You know what my obligations are. All I’m going to request is that the KEN PARK film, you’re not at liberty to show that, as you stated earlier, and all I request is that if you intend to show it, would you care to give me a copy of the DVD.’

Ken Park (2002) - Balmain Town Hall, Sydney screening 4
Police move in

Pomeranz stopped the film as requested, then changed her mind and pressed play again. Saying ‘It’s just a film, it won’t hurt anybody’.

Katsogiannis replied ‘It’s got nothing to do with my personal view. I’m here to enforce the law’.

The projector was spun around to a sidewall so that the audience could get a better view. It was eventually stopped after the police cut the power, which then prevented them from ejecting the DVD. Once it was back on, the disc was seized.

Ken Park (2002) - Balmain Town Hall, Sydney screening 5
DVD seized

Pomeranz and the other organisers were then asked by police to provide their details.

Ken Park (2002) - Balmain Town Hall, Sydney screening 6
Superintendent Arthur Katsogiannis

YouTube has the Channel 9 report combined with a Channel 7 debate between David Marr and Des Clark, the Director of the OFLC. The Channel 10 report is available as a stand-alone clip.

The action was taken in response to the June 30 complaint made by Fred Nile. The following day, he was very pleased with himself.

July 4, 2003
The Rev Fred Nile MLC, member of the NSW Parliament has congratulated the NSW Police Force for their prompt response to his written complaint to uphold the Commonwealth and NSW film censorship laws against the hard core – child pornography film, KEN PARK.

“I am very pleased that the NSW Police Force has upheld the law without fear or favour, in spite of the deliberate attempt by prominent media persons to break the law such as David Marr (ABC/Sydney Morning Herald) and Margaret Pomeranz (SBS).”

“If teenage actors in the KEN PARK film portray under 16 year olds in nude, explicit sex and suicide scenes etc. it is legally child pornography,” said Rev Fred Nile MLC, “and, according to the classification guidelines, must be prohibited.”

– The Power of One – Fred Nile strikes again
– Fred Nile

July 4, 2003
Police asked the television film critic Margaret Pomeranz and four others to give their particulars last night as officers considered whether charges are to be laid over the attempted screening of the banned film KEN PARK.

Arthur Katsogiannis, superintendent of Leichhardt local area command, said police were acting on a written complaint.

“The KEN PARK film has a refused classification; our sole purpose is to prevent any breach of the law,” he said.

Minutes earlier, Pomeranz, standing in front of the screen while police lined the room looking on, had told the audience: “It is a shame it has come to this point,” before pressing play on the illegal DVD copy of the film.

Pomeranz asked all those who wanted to share responsibility of exhibiting the film last night to raise their hand. Hundreds did.

As police surged onto the stage the audience booed. After some initial resistance, which allowed a tantalising few seconds of the film to appear, police removed the DVD from the player.

Four of the organisers under the banner Free Cinema – Pomeranz, the president of the Australia Film Critic Circle, Julie Rigg, the film writer Jane Mills, and ABC TV’s Media Watch host, David Marr – were aware they could face jail or a hefty fine.

However, they said last night was not just about one film but about a wave of films that had been banned by the government censor in recent years.

Marr warned that Australia risked returning to the 1960s. “In a couple of months anyone here will be able to buy a copy from Amazon.com and get a DVD through the post.”

The final police shutdown had come after a game of cat and mouse between organisers and police lasting several hours.

The first officer had arrived even before the protesting film critics. A few minutes after 5pm, he asked volunteers bearing Free Cinema arm bands, who were setting up rows of chairs and organising milk for hundreds of cups of tea, what was going on.

“We are showing a film,” was the reply.

An hour later, the officer was back. By now the cinema screen read “KEN PARK banned!”, the protest cry alternating with images of the film’s young adult stars provocatively prone.

“Not quite sure what’s going on,” was the reply this time.

Outside the Town Hall, Pomeranz said when the DVD was played, police had asked her to hand over the film.

“[The officer] asked me to hand over the copy of the film that was screening, I sort of stopped the machine at one point and then I thought…’No damn it, let’s do what we came here to do’,” she said. “They have taken our details and I imagine I’ll hear from them.”

She said had seen the film eight months ago at a film festival. She gave it “at least four stars”

– We’ve arrested this film, say police
article @ smh.com.au

July 4, 2003
NSW would push for changes to federal laws to allow banned films such as KEN PARK to be screened at film festivals, Premier Bob Carr said today.

Mr Carr said state police who stopped a screening of the controversial film last night at Balmain Town Hall were obliged to act to enforce a commonwealth law.

“Any screening of the film constitutes an offence given that the film has been refused classification by the Office of Film and Literature Classification,” he told reporters today.

“I happen to think that was wrong for that to be banned for the film festival at least.”

Mr Carr said Attorney-General Bob Debus would raise the issue with his state and federal counterparts at their next meeting in November.

“That would be an exemption applying to films screened for film festival audiences,” he said.

“But of course it would not be able to breach the Crimes Act prohibition on films involving child pornography for example.”

Mr Carr said there was absolutely nothing the state government could do to allow a screening to go ahead.

– NSW to push for law change

July 4, 2004
The banning of acclaimed film KEN PARK is totally out of step with community values. Last night’s police intervention to prevent a planned screening in Balmain, and confiscation of the film demonstrates the stupidity of this decision.

NSWCCL President, Mr Cameron Murphy, said:

“This film has been screened across the world yet our Classification Board has decided that we are not mature enough to view it.”

“I think that adults should be entitled to go and see a film of their choice. After all they are the ones paying their twelve to fifteen dollars and they should be allowed to choose the films that they think are appropriate for them, not some bureaucrats in Canberra.”

“This decision is totally out of step with community values, and makes Australia an international joke.”

“A number of recent decisions by the Office of Film & Literature Classification (OFLC), to refuse classification for films including ROMANCE, BAISE-MOI, and now KEN PARK show that this is clearly a censorship regime.”

“Nothing is forcing people to go out, spend money and sit through this film. If some people are offended by certain films then they shouldn’t go and see them.”

“The decision to ban this film is nothing more than sycophantic pandering to ultra conservatives – at the expense of the rest of us.”

“Last night we saw more than a dozen police reluctantly halting a screening of the film in Balmain because of a single written complaint. The audience of over 300 adults knew what to expect in the film and were exercising their right to choose to see it.”

“There is no justification for the waste of valuable policing resources to arrest innocent film enthusiasts while real crime goes unsolved.”

– Cameron Murphy, President

July 5, 2003
Australia’s chief censor has defended claims that the Office of Film and Literature Classification was too conservative in banning the controversial film KEN PARK.

…[Des] Clark said although the review board was a Federal Government body, it was ridiculous to think there was political pressure to ban films. “Our integrity rests on the fact that there is none of that intervention,” Mr Clark said.

The distributor of BAISE-MOI, Mark Spratt, said the review board had become more conservative in recent years and “very dubious justifications” had been used to ban KEN PARK.

Mr Spratt said the KEN PARK ban meant Australia had regressed to the restrictive 1960s when film critic David Stratton directed the Sydney Film Festival.

“Every film had to be classified, cuts were demanded, some films were banned,” he said. “We’ve come a long way since then and in line with the rest of the world where most films like BAISE-MOI and KEN PARK are free to screen, Australia becomes the only country to ban them.”

Swinburne University senior lecturer in media and communications, John Schwartz, believes the review board’s conservatism reflected the social agenda of the Howard Government. He said banning a film was futile in the technological age because content was available on the internet.

“What we’re being told is not what we’ve got,” Mr Schwartz said. “We’re into deregulating and people making their own decisions, but on the other hand we have restrictions on films and books, which seems to be a throwback to earlier decades.”

National president of the Australian Family Association, Bill Muehlenberg, supports the KEN PARK ban. He said society had a big enough problem with child abuse and did not need a film depicting it. “If people think their civil liberties are being curtailed, well, there are plenty of other things they can watch,” Mr Muehlenberg said.

– Film board chief on the defensive over banned movie
article @ theage.com.au

Following the first successful Melbourne screening, a second was planned, this time by a group called ‘The Free’.

July 2003
“Paul Moder, from the group “The Free”, will be screening the film KEN PARK by Larry Clark at an undisclosed location between Monday 7th July and Friday 11th July.

To be updated on details of the screening, sign up using the form below. An email will be sent to you closer to the event. This is not a Melbourne Underground Film Festival event.”

To sign-up, and to get more details checkout the censorship updates at the MUFF website.

Melbourne Underground Film Festival

The date was eventually set for July 8th but was abandoned at the last minute following pressure from the Victorian Police.

Tonight’s screening Of KEN PARK cancelled
To all supporters of anti-censorship and freedom of speech and art, We regret to inform you (at this late stage) that tonight’s screening at the F4 bar has been cancelled. Earlier this afternoon. Victoria Police cautioned the proprietors that they risked being fined and losing their liquor license if they allowed the screening to take place. The management decided under the circumstances to disallow the screening of any RC material at the venue.

Alternative arrangements were considered for unrestricted films, however it was decided this would not be satisfactory given the original intent of the screening. Plainclothes detectives will be present on the night (in the audience) and although we, the Free would defy their presence and wish to commence screening, we cannot take responsibility for the legal ramifications for the F4 bar. Once again, our sincere apologies.

We will of course maintain contact and inform you all of future developments.

Yours in resolve

– The Free

The crowd that had turned up were instead shown PUNISHMENT PARK (1971).

Successful Sydney screening

KEN PARK did eventually secretly play in Sydney. The following article implies it took place on July 16th.

July 17, 2003
More than 200 people defied Australia’s censors by turning out for an underground screening of the controversially banned film, KEN PARK.

A copy of the film, which was downloaded from the internet, was screened at a secret inner city location without police action to close it down.

The crowd of more than 200 had been told of the screening by email and word of mouth over the past 24 hours in a bid to avoid publicity and police scrutiny.

But one organiser, who asked not be named, said censors only enlivened the black market.

“I basically did this because they told me not to and I can’t see any good reason why I shouldn’t,” he told AAP.

“Democracy is about choice … we are consenting adults, we should be able to make up our own minds about that.”

He said the Office of Film and Literature Classification saw the issues in the film in black and white, and treated them as pornography.

“There was old people here, there was young people here, there was a mix of ages, and they have been prompted into discussion because they could make a choice and that’s what democracy should be,” he said.

Stephen, 34, of Woollahra, said there was no doubt about the film’s entertainment value although he could see why they banned it.

“I found some of the scenes a bit unnecessary,” he said.

However Ally, 30, of Alexandria, said Australian censors had banned the film unnecessarily, saying she had seen more confronting films released through mainstream cinemas in Australia.

“I think people are old enough to make their own judgments about what they do and don’t see,” she said.

Ally admitted that some scenes were quite shocking, including one where a young teen stabs his grandparents to death because his grandfather cheats at board games and his grandmother invades his privacy.

– Banned film shown in secret
article @ smh.com.au

Illegal DVD bust

The free publicity meant that KEN PARK was soon a big seller for pirate DVD traders.

September 7, 2003
Police believe they have broken a significant software piracy ring after raids in Melbourne’s west netted illegal DVDs, video games and copying equipment valued at more than $500,000.

New release movies FINDING NEMO and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, as well as the controversial banned film KEN PARK, were among the 10,000 illegal DVDs found inside a St Albans house yesterday.

In what was the second-largest seizure of pirated material in the country, police also found pornographic films, hundreds of copied Playstation games, 16 DVD burners and $30,000 in cash. Most of the material had been imported from Asia.

Five people – two men and three women – will be charged on summons with selling unclassified material.

Australasian Film and Visual Security Office spokesman Stephen Howes said the illegal operation was big enough to supply pirated material to several Melbourne markets as well as market stalls in Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo.

“We believe these people are major suppliers of illegal products,” Mr Howes said. “We saw one stall take $7000 at a market in three hours.”

Mr Howes said Melbourne had become the centre of Australia’s growing piracy industry following a customs crackdown on illegal imports from Asia about 18 months ago.

– Police raids seize DVDs
article @ theage.com.au

Successful Hobart screening

On September 11, a copy was shown at a private residence in Hobart. The audience of around 150 people had heard about it through word of mouth.

The media covered the event, but no action was taken against the organisers. Acting Sergeant Peter May of the Hobart Police was quoted by The Hobart Mercury, as saying there had been no specific complaint concerning the showing of the film.

Lessons learnt

The KEN PARK controversy became one of Australia’s most high-profile censorship cases. In their annual reports, both boards examined the sequence of events that resulted in an RC rating.

October 10, 2003
An application in respect of the film KEN PARK was the subject of extensive media reporting in 2002-2003.

In a split decision on 21 May 2003, seven members of the Board classified KEN PARK refused classification for depictions of actual sex. One member considered the film should be classified R. In the Board’s majority opinion, the film warranted a refused classification decision as it deals with matters of sex in a way that offends against the standards of morality, decency or propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults. Films that are refused classification cannot be legally sold, hired, publicly exhibited, advertised or imported into Australia.

The Sydney Film Festival subsequently asked the Director to approve a film festival exemption application for KEN PARK, even though the film had been refused classification. The Film Festival Exemption guidelines do not permit the Director to approve an exemption application for a film that is, or is likely to be, refused classification. Therefore, the Director could not approve the Sydney Film Festival’s application to screen KEN PARK.

On 28 May 2003, the Director, acting in accordance with the guidelines made under the New South Wales ‘Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Enforcement Act 1995’, declined to grant a film festival exemption for KEN PARK.

Following an application from the Sydney Film Festival, the Review Board confirmed the refused classification decision.

These decisions prompted significant media interest and debate, with the NSW Attorney-General foreshadowing a proposal to amend the Film Festival Exemption guidelines to enable the screening of certain refused classification films at festivals. Censorship Ministers are expected to consider this matter in November 2003.

Film festivals – complaints

Twenty-two complaints were received about the film KEN PARK receiving a refused classification decision and not being screened at the Sydney Film Festival in June. The complaints covered a range of views on the refused classification decision and the film festival exemption scheme. The 22 complaints were the early stages of a letter writing campaign which was mainly received in the next reporting period.

Ministerial correspondence

The OFLC processed 931 items of ministerial correspondence, including letters, emails and facsimiles, referred by the Attorney-General in the reporting period. This compares with 722 items of ministerial correspondence during 2001-2002.

Main issues raised in the correspondence were:
– the decisions to refuse classification for the film KEN PARK (264 items).

– Classification Board
– Annual Report, 2002 to 2003

October 10, 2003
Issues raised by the KEN PARK review

The Review Board’s decision to refuse classification to the film KEN PARK stimulated significant controversy: Media commentary regarding the film commenced in May 2003 and continued until late September. Media Monitors Australia reported that KEN PARK was the fourth most mentioned item in the media across Australia for the period June 30 to July 6. A public meeting was held regarding the film’s classification in Sydney: Unfortunately, some of the media commentary was inaccurate. The Review Board also received correspondence about the film from members of the public. Some of the correspondence reflected the inaccurate media coverage of the issue.

In comparison to the controversy stimulated by the refusal of classification of BAISE-MOI, the public debate concerning the classification of KEN PARK was longer in duration, more intense in coverage through press, radio and television and questioned the workings of the Review Board more closely. The media coverage moved, from primary reporting of the refusal of classification, to secondary opinion and analysis of censorship and the classification system quite quickly. The tertiary stage of the coverage was also reached with the issue being satirised on a number of television programs, through cartoon and the development of jokes. The sophisticated media treatment of the issue, regardless of its factual basis, demonstrates the importance that the public gives to classification matters.

The KEN PARK application for review was complex and raised some issues that were unusual or had not previously been considered by the Review Board.

Firstly, the application for review was from the Sydney Film Festival (SFF) a not-for-profit organisation that provides a film festival each year and has done so for 50 years. However, the original applicant for classification of the film was MRA Entertainment an organisation from Queensland. MRA had applied for classification for sale or hire for a video release. It is usual that an application for review will come from the original applicant or an organisation involved in the making or distribution of the film, or less frequently from the Attorney-General. The Review Board determined that SFF had a clear commercial interest in the film and as such had ‘standing’ as a person aggrieved. This determination of standing did not test the 2002 amendments to the Classification Act.

Secondly, in addition to lodging a review application on the Classification Boards for sale or hire KEN PARK decision, SFF asked the Review Board to review the Director of the Classification Board’s decision to refuse the film festival exemption application. The Review Board, after taking advice from the Australian Government Solicitor, determined it did not have jurisdiction to review such decisions of the Director of the Classification Board. A request for review of a film festival exemption had not been received by the Review Board before.

Thirdly, as SFF was not from the original applicant, MRA Entertainment had the right to participate in the review process. In order to determine threshold matters such as the validity of SFF’s application, whether it had standing and whether the Review Board had jurisdiction over the festival exemption application a directions conference was held. At this conference, Independent Films sought leave to participate as an interested party. Independent Films was a joint-venture partner with MRA Entertainment in the video release of KEN PARK. As Independent Films had a clear commercial interest in the outcome of the decision, leave was granted for it to participate as an interested party. The directions conference was attended by SFF as the person aggrieved, MRA Entertainment as the original applicant and Independent Films as an interested party. The determinations made are contained within. The reasons for decision for KEN PARK, which is published on the OFLC website.

Leave for interested parties to participate in an application for review had been given previously and was granted to the Australian Family Association, which had written a submission to the BAISE-MOI review in 2002.

The Review Board met for a second time to consider the application for review. MRA Entertainment and Independent Films chose not to participate in the meeting. The Review Board decided in the majority that KEN PARK should be refused classification.

Significant issues.

Some of the issues discussed in the media, relating to KEN PARK, concern the perceived independence of the Review Board. These issues were also raised during the debate surrounding the BAISE-MOI decision. Whilst these controversies arise infrequently, and consumer research by the OFLC states that 95 per cent of Australians are satisfied with the classification system, they highlight concerns of the public. It is important that the Review Board is completely independent and is seen to be independent.

– Maureen Shelly, Convenor
– Classification Review Board
– Annual Report, 2002 to 2003

Sydney return

Another Sydney screening occurred on 29 October and was planned through word of mouth.

It was organised by the Sydney University Film Society and was attended by an audience of around sixty people, including several academics.

Revised guidelines

The NSW Attorney-General, Bob Debus (Labor) was true to his word and pushed for changes to the film festival rules.

July 2004
Film Festival Exemption Guidelines
Ministers approved the amended Film Festival Guidelines and agreed to the public release of the amended Film Festival Guidelines;

Film Festival Guidelines – Exemption for RC films.
Ministers agreed that jurisdictions interested in developing guidelines to exempt film festivals from the classification scheme would develop options for consideration.

– Standing Committee of Attorneys-General Censorship
– Annual Report, 2003-2004

September 16, 2004
New Film Festival Exemption guidelines

As a result of the public interest that was generated by the film, KEN PARK, in 2003, the administrative processes related to the film festival exemption scheme were reviewed and Censorship Ministers agreed to amend the guidelines in November 2003. The amendments, which were procedural in nature:

– enable a person or organisation in all jurisdictions (except Queensland) to obtain an exemption from classification for an unclassified film for film festival purposes without first having to obtain ‘approved organisation’ status;

– correct terminology, up-date references and remove obsolete references; and

– recast the previous guidelines so as to make them more user friendly.

The amended Film Festival Exemption guidelines commenced on 1 February 2004.

Film festivals – complaints

The OFLC received 28 complaints about the film KEN PARK receiving an RC decision and therefore not being screened at the Sydney Film Festival in June 2003. The complaints covered a range of views on the RC decision and the film festival exemption scheme. The complaints were the later stage of a letter writing campaign which began towards the end of the previous reporting period.

– Classification Board
– Annual Report, 2003 to 2004

Customs seizure

There is one reported customs confiscation of KEN PARK.

c. 20005– DVD.