Gay sex too much for Australian film censor

This article originally appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald.

A feature film that includes explicit scenes of gay male sex has been banned by the Classification Board. I Want Your Love, written and directed by young American filmmaker Travis Mathews, was due to screen at queer film festivals around Australia.

Mathews recently collaborated with actor James Franco on Interior: Leather Bar, an official selection at Sundance this year. It was a re-engagement with the controversial 1980 Hollywood movie Cruising, which starred Al Pacino.

Festival films are granted exemptions from the classification process. Festivals provide synopses of the works they are screening; the board can then ask to see individual films.

Melbourne Queer Film Festival director Lisa Daniel says that in her 15 years at the festival, I Want Your Love is the first film that has been refused an exemption. It has been seen in many festivals around the world, and its distributors have told her this is the first time it has been banned. Mathews is a well-known filmmaker, and the decision is an embarrassment for Australia, she says.

Mathews comes from a documentary background. His documentary series about gay men and their rooms was the genesis of I Want Your Love, his first feature.

It focuses on a young gay man who is preparing to leave San Francisco after living there for 10 years. The film shows his last 36 hours in the city, and a party thrown for him by his friends, in which his ambivalent feelings about departure are clarified.

"With my films I have always sought to capture honest and intimate depictions of modern gay life with everyday men," Mathews says in a director's statement. For his first feature, "this involved a throughline of intimacy and that meant not shying away from sex."

He uses sex as "as a tool to show character development, interpersonal issues, intimacy, playfulness and something overall closer to the reality I'm familiar with."

The film was also on the program at Sydney's Queer Screen and the Brisbane Queer Film Festival.

Jain Moralee, director of Queer Screen, said she was very disappointed that she would be unable to show the work. The sex scene, she says, is a six-minute montage of friends, housemates and partygoers that is part of the narrative context of the film. She describes Mathews as a filmmaker who explores the line between narrative and documentary.

Mathews was already on the Classification Board radar. One of the films from his documentary series In Their Room Berlin was due to screen at the Mardi Gras Film Festival last year, but was not granted an exemption.

EDIT: A petition has been created which asks Lesley O'Brien, director of the Australian Classification Board, to overturn the ban. 

"Honest, intimate depictions of gay love and sex do not harm us to see," the creator, Grant Sciluna, writes in a letter to Ms O'Brien.

"I Want Your Love shows love and sex between happy, healthy and consenting gay men. While it contains actual sex, it is shown within a non-violent, intelligent and artistic narrative.

"This element is therefore not gratuitous and should not form a reason why it should be refused exemption from classification.

"I Want Your Love has screened at every major queer film festival in the world and is getting a DVD release in the United States this month. We ask you to reflect on why we are the only country in the world to refuse its citizens the right to see it?"

The petition has over 1,200 supporters so far, including the film's editor, Bryan Darling, who comments that he finds it "appalling that a modern Western country would deny its citizens the fundamental right of free speech.

"Please take the time to examine the policies of your bureaucracy and let individuals decide what they feel about this film. Our films have screened worldwide including Istanbul, Turkey.

"Perhaps it's time Australia caught up with civil rights."

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