20 October 2013
By Leonie Wolters
This year's Durban International Film Festival opened by showing a blank screen, rather than the planned opening film, Jahmil Qubeka's hauntingly beautiful film noir Of Good Report. South Africa's Film and Publications Board refused to approve the film about an English literature teacher and his affair with a pupil, played by a 23-year-old actress. As reason it cited perceived 'elements of child pornography'. Screening or viewing the film would have constituted a criminal offence, and the festival manager, Peter Machen, refused to replace it with something carrying the seal of the film board's approval. Instead, the blank screen was accompanied by talks on South Africa's history of censorship.
After an outcry from the director, cast and crew as well as the festival team, the film was reclassified as suitable to audiences 16 and over, and the controversy surrounding the film has drawn large audiences to its screenings. Their responses have been overwhelmingly positive, and the Lolita-esque story is seen as very relevant in contemporary South African society.
Across the board, he film's initial censoring has been met with utter surprise. 'Should we hold people criminally accountable for telling stories?' wondered one of the film's actresses, Thobi Mkhwanazi, in an interview. Doing so would spell trouble for anyone in her line of work, and she raises the question where the boundary is between stories we want to tell, and the ones we deem unfit for discussion.
Qubeka has drawn attention to the lack of transparency in the decisions of the film board, much as actor Ryan Gosling did in 2010 following rating of Blue Valentine as not suited to viewers under 18. Then, Gosling questioned the power of an anonymous group to determine which films can be shown to whom, and as a consequence, the amount of tickets it can sell. Qubeka is more directly concerned with the damage done to his reputation through being associated with child pornography.
See for yourself how corrupting Of Good Report really is on 25th October in Glasgow or on 26th October in Edinburgh. After both screenings, Jahmil Qubeka will be answering questions about his film, censorship and anything else audiences are curious to know.
In an exciting last-minute addition, the main actress of the film, 23-year-old Petronella Tshuma, who plays Nolitha in the film, will be present at the Glasgow opening screening of Of Good Report on Friday, 25th October.