Banned film at MUFF!
August 21, 2009
Yesterday, the Melbourne Underground Film Festival received knowledge that the OFLC has placed a ban upon the screening of Jennifer Lyon Bell’s ‘Matinee’ as part of the ‘Mini Muff’ shorts session. MUFF wishes to oppose this decision on two grounds.
Firstly, the decision negates the artistic merits of the film. While graphically sexual, ‘Matinee’ is a picture which embodies many of the qualities which should be sought after in high quality artistic filmmaking. The lead performances are strong and memorable, and the direction and production design work twofold, both ensuring a subtle, entirely naturalistic feel, and a highly stylized, enigmatic and atmospheric world, the likes of which is often attempted in independent cinema but rarely so deftly achieved.
Secondly, and most importantly, MUFF opposes the OFLC’s decision on the grounds that it represents a hypocritical and troubling suppression of transgressive female-centric sexuality on film. The modus operandi of Blue Artichoke Films, Bell’s production company, is to create films which portray realistic sexual intimacy, depict empowered female characters, possess artistic merit and strong narratives, and do not fall back upon the damaging and often dangerous stereotypes of female sexuality that the Western media is accustomed to. In other words, Bell is looking to produce films about sexuality which women can enjoy, free of masculine control.
It is outrageous that the OFLC has sought fit to ban ‘Matinee’ for the sole reason that it depicts actual sex. The sex depicted in the film, while real, is set within a relationship based on love and mutual desire. What we see in ‘Matinee’ is two consenting adults (characters, not porn clichés, with a deep and complex established relationship) making love. That is all. Nowhere in this film do we see any violence, sexual abuse, cruelty or malice; we merely see the intimacy which occurs between loving partners every day in real life. The fact that this depiction is considered to be too disturbing for an adult audience, and yet films which depict shocking and graphic violence and/or sexual abuse (yes, simulated, but made to look and feel real) are passed by the OFLC, is unacceptable.
Lars Von Trier’s ‘Antichrist’ was recently passed by the OFLC for the Melbourne International Film Festival. This film depicts extremely high levels of sexual violence and genital mutilation, and encourages a phallocentric vision in its audience that touches on the idea that women are inherently evil. ‘Matinee’ depicts actual sex between two adults in a loving and consenting partnership, and significantly it focuses on the importance of women’s pleasure in sexual intimacy, and presents a remarkably strong female lead. Passing ‘Antichrist’ but banning ‘Matinee’ reveals a tendency in the OFLC to suppress films which strengthen female sexuality on screen and to allow films which encourage view that female sexuality is damaged, fractured or violent.
There have been cases in the recent past wherein films depicting graphic actual sex within realistic, emotionally-toned and non-violent settings have been granted passage by the OFLC (MUFF points to ‘Shortbus’ as one example), and MUFF asks only that the same considerations are granted to Bell’s ‘Matinee’, as not repealing their decision will brand the OFLC hypocritical, suppressive, and worryingly anti-women.
A Letter from the Filmmaker Jennifer Lyon Bell:
To the OFLC:
I’m disappointed and puzzled by your decision not to allow my film Matinée to screen at this year’s Melbourne Underground Film Festival.
The sexual relationship portrayed by the characters Mariah and Daniel in Matinée is not only a consensual, emotional and nuanced relationship, but their sex plays an important role in the story of the film. The story is not tacked on to the sex; rather, the story has everything to do with the way the characters continue to communicate nonverbally throughout the entire sex scene. This nonverbal sexual communication is, at least according to the feedback on the film so far, an important part of why Matinée is seen by festival programmers as different from most of the other films they’ve seen this year.
I’d also like to point out that certain elements of the sex in Matinée —such as the inclusion of safer-sex techniques made crucial to the storyline —create a more responsible depiction of sex than one frequently sees in either mainstream or art films, in which characters usually throw sexual caution to the wind under the guise of romance.
I hope this letter addresses whatever concerns you may have had about my film, but of course if you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me through the Festival.
With respectful regards
Jennifer Lyon Bell
Blue Artichoke Films
That’s all for now…
As you can tell MUFF starts tomorrow!