The work of film censorship is always unimaginable and unpredictable. In an interview the famous Iranian film director, Abbas Kiarostami, recounted that the milking cow scene in The Wind Will Carry Us Away should have been removed since it was deemed to be pornographic by the censors. But he refused to do that. Thus, the film was banned in Iran. Not surprisingly, the relationship between filmmakers and censors is uneasy and troublesome. As African novelist and Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee writes, “Working under censorship is like being intimate with someone who does not love you, with whom you want no intimacy, but who presses himself in upon you.” While this analogy perhaps accurately illustrates the troubled relationship between filmmakers and censors, it doesn’t explain various forms of film censorship across the world. For instance, people easily neglect the insidious power of market censorship and latent power of social censorship.
Given the encompassing presence of censorship, a utopian question suddenly comes to my mind: Is a world without censorship possible? Is there any guarantee that an absence of censorship creates a lot of high quality films? Of course, there is no easy answer to these questions. But perhaps we can measure the effects of film censorship. Film censorship not only affects a filmmaker as an individual, but also society as a whole. Under the reign of film censorship, we only have limited forms of films to watch and restricted space for critical and robust discussions evoked by films. Moreover, film censorship sustains political establishment and prevents social change.
As is well known, there are various attitudes towards film censorship. For a conservative group, censorship will protect social order and morality from the harmful effects of films. In contrast, a liberal (as well as moderate) group fights against censorship since it violates freedom of expression and civil rights. In fact, both groups believe in the powerful influence of film on the audience, particularly among children and young people. But they tend to overlook the capacity of the audience to respond critically to film content. As a result, censorship is perceived simply as external pressure (force) upon filmmakers rather than an internal process.
When we are being occupied by the worries of external (official) censorship, we should not underestimate the work of self-censorship. A Hungarian writer Danilo Kis states that self-censorship is the negative pole of creative energy. It distracts and irritates, but sometimes, when it comes into the positive pole, it can produce a spark. Contrasting official censorship with self-censorship, Kis remarks, “The fight against censorship is open and dangerous, therefore heroic, while the battle against self-censorship is anonymous, lonely and unwitnessed, and it makes its subject feel humiliated.” Thus, our next question is: how does a filmmaker fight against his/her self-censorship demon in the film making process? Perhaps the challenge for filmmakers is, as a great Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda put it, “to create work that makes censors’ methods inoperable.” By watching the films in the Perspectives Film Festival 2011, we may understand whether the filmmaker is triumphant or losing over his/her battle against internal as well as external film censorship.
This article is first appeared in the catalog of Perspective Film Festival 2011 (Singapore)
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