Monday, April 7, 2008

SIFF'08: Censorship in Singapore

One thing I have always appreciated about the programmers of the Singapore International Film Festival is their willingness to take chances and bring in films that will be provocative and stir up discussion. But doing so means that inevitably some of their choices will run afoul of the Media Development Authority's Board of Film Censors.

This year, four films have been banned from screening at the festival. They are:

  • Arabs and Terrorism -- Arab-American director Bassam Haddad interviewed hundreds of American policymakers and Middle Eastern political factions as well as people on the street for opposing views on terrorism. The film had been set for a sold-out screening on Saturday, according to an Agence France-Presse report.
  • David The Tolhildan -- Directed by Mano Khalil, the documentary follows the story of David Rouiller, son of a prominent Swiss judge, who joined the Kurdistan Workers Party, which is recognized as terrorist organization by the US and EU. According to the Board of Film Censors chairwoman Amy Chua, both Arabs and Terrorism and David the Tolhildan "portray terrorist organizations in a positive light by lending support and voice to justify their cause through violence", which are disallowed under the film classification guidelines.
  • A Jihad for Love -- Directed by gay Muslim filmmaker Parvez Sharma, it's touted to be "the world's first documentary film on the coexistence of Islam and homosexuality". It was banned "in view of the sensitive nature of the subject that features Muslim homosexuals in various countries and their struggle to reconcile religion and their lifestyle," Chua was quoted as saying by The Straits Times.
  • Bakushi -- This Japanese documentary about a sex fetish involving tying up women was banned because it "normalizes unnatural fetishes and behavior which is disallowed" under film content guidelines, Chua was quoted as saying.
Festival director Philip Cheah was looking understandably harried on Sunday when I briefly met him as he was checking on the screening of Death in the Land of Encantos. I was heading in to watch the last three hours of the film, so we didn't have time to talk, but Screen Daily's Silvia Wong caught up with him:

In the early days of silent film, D.W. Griffith made the epic Intolerance. Now that we have colour and sound, we unfortunately still have intolerance on a more grand epic scale.

The censorship comes as Singapore is trying to liberalize its image, bringing in casinos, a night-time Formula 1 race, staging massive arts and music festivals and promoting its nightlife. It has a motion-picture ratings system that seems to work. But paranoia and censorship still reign, particularly when it comes to political subjects.

See also:

(Via Screen Daily, AP, AFP, Reuters)

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