A scene from Of Good Report.

CENSORSHIP marred the opening of the 34th Durban International Film Festival (Diff) last night when the Film and Publication Board banned the opening film, Of Good Report.

Instead of the opening sequence to Jahmil XT Qubeka’s drama about a teacher who embarks on a sexual relationship with a pupil, the film-makers and invited guests read the following on the Suncoast Cinema screen:

“This film has been refused classification by the Film and Publications Act 1996.

“Unfortunately we may not legally screen the film Of Good Report, as to do so would constitute a criminal offence.”

Film and Publications Board spokesperson, Prince Mlimandlela Ndamase, said child pornography was not peculiar to South Africa, it was illegal worldwide.

“We are leading a campaign (since 2010) against child pornography on behalf of the government. The board is not trying to censor a particular individual. It is the law in South Africa,” he said.

Ndamase said Qubeka had stated his intention to appeal against the board’s decision and it was awaiting the formal appeal. He explained that the board had an independent appeals tribunal headed by law professor and acting High Court judge Karthy Govender.

Ndamase could not provide a time frame for the appeal process but said once it was lodged, the tribunal did its best to expedite the process.

According to the board’s classification committee they stopped watching the film at 28 minutes and 16 seconds because the film contained child pornography.

At this point in the film 16-year-old Nolitha (played by 23-year-old Petronella Tshuma) is depicted in her Grade 9 school uniform.

Since she had engaged in a sexual act with an adult in a preceding scene, this is depiction of child pornography, according to the board.

In an e-mailed letter to the Diff manager, Peter Machen, the board refused to classify the film and ordered the festival to either destroy or surrender copies of the film to the police.

Machen said the University of KwaZulu-Natal, as the organising body of the film festival would appeal and he hoped it could still be screened before the festival ends on July 28.

He said they did not substitute the film because it would have lessened the impact of Qubeka’s film and invited film patrons to tweet their thoughts on the issue.

“We expected feathers to be ruffled in other ways,” Machen said with reference to Of Good Report, which he described as different from Hollywood-style narratives.

Qubeka first came to Diff’s notice with uMalusi praised for its cinematography and Of Good Report is meant to be a homage to classic film noir.

Of Good Report producer Mike Auret, of Spier Films, said the film had been picked up for screening at the next Berlin, Rotterdam, Toronto and Dubai film festivals.

He expressed shock and disbelief at the ban: “I don’t believe it is the function of the state to censor us in this way.”

Auret said that if an appeal did not result in the film being screened locally, he would investigate taking the matter to the Constitutional Court.

Actress Phoenix Norgaard, who plays Nolitha’s friend in the film, said it highlighted the plight of young girls manipulated into having sex with older men as a means of economic survival.

She saw the banning of the film as an opportunity for people to talk about a hidden issue that affects many.

“If we can’t find the information in this way, perhaps we can find it in other ways.

“There’s a lesson here tonight. If we can’t stop it (censorship) now, it will only grow.”

Tshuma said the film was a cry from her sisters in townships engaged in relationships with older men as a means of survival, and hoped people would concentrate on that rather than whether the film depicts child porn or not.

Fellow actress Lee-Ann van Rooi, who plays a policewoman in the film, said the banning saddened her as she knew everyone had worked hard on the project: “It is a story told in an honest and brutal way so that the audience can see the movie and with that in mind, change.”

The director’s wife, doctor Lwazi Manzi, said the film’s subject matter was something experienced and seen in South Africa every day: “Just because they don’t want to see it, does not mean it is not happening.

“When you go home after your 16 days of activism I am there at 2am with the 14-year-old who has had an abortion.”

Qubeka declined to speak, taping his mouth shut in protest. – Additional reporting by Noelene Barbeau