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Harold White

Page history last edited by David Lindsay 1 year, 3 months ago


Once again censorship was the major issue, in relation to both Film Society films and the commercial cinema. Not so long ago censorship seemed an academic matter to most people outside the Film Societies but there is a realisation today that all viewers, as well as suppliers and exhibitors, are suffering from an outmoded censorship.

A remit passed by the Labour Party Conference was all we could hope for, reinforcing the evidence of opinion polls that those who actually attend the cinema are strongly in favour of reform. However, there is little to show that Minister, Department or Censor got the message, while to some, the Federation's advocacy of a reform that would bring film censorship into line with the Indecent Publications Act represented an all-out assault on public morality! We were unsuccessful in our attempts to meet the Minister for discussions.

On the other hand, I believe there will be sufficient support in the Parliamentary Labour Party to ensure that the Cinematograph Films Act is amended in 1974 to recognise both the special needs of the Film Societies and the wishes of adult film-goers in general. The Working Committee took all opportunities, of which there were many, to argue publicly for reform and worked energetically on the practical problems. The Committee might reasonably have expected more support from member societies. It should be obvious that legislation and public servants tend to lose respect for any cause, however persuasively argued, if there is little visible evidence of support in the constituencies.

Television and radio coverage was reasonable and even-handed but that of the press was distinctly spotty. Some papers treated our statements on their merits as news and for this we are grateful. At least one metropolitan paper, however, ensured that our views did not reach its readers while giving generous space to the Censor, to magistrates and any other hardliner on censorship. This form of extra-legal, unacknowledged censorship is much more pernicious in a democratic society than the statutory variety, and is worthy of Press Council attention.


Film Society films no longer enjoy the indulgent benevolence of the Censor. Where once it was inconceivable that our films would be interfered with, this is no longer so. Where once the Censor used the vague wording of the Act to justify a laisser-faire attitude, that same vague wording today requires the same man to ensure that Film Society ears are unsullied by language heard only a year ago in films. Thus the Agnes Varda film, Lion's Love is banned. And so bizarre is the world of public decorum in this country that Up the Chastity Belt, that monument to public decency and good taste, is freely screened in public while Paarungen, a sensitively realised and deeply moral adaptation from Strindberg, is emasculated for that smaller section of the public which has a serious interest in such a film. Appeals have been lodged as a matter of principle whenever a Film Society film has been cut or rejected, but so far without success. The Appeal Board gives an impression that its standards of judgement are based on what it sees when reviewing the sort of rubbish commonly under appeal, rather than the sort of films commonly seen on the commercial screen. Certainly artistic merit counts for nothing and material is cut from our films which screens freely to the public in a context of prurience.

If anything could be calculated to enrage film-goers, or illustrate the contemptuous official assessment of their maturity and trustworthiness, it was the banning of Last Tango In Paris. New Zealand stood virtually alone amongst democratic and literate countries in banning this film and New Zealanders became the laughing stock of the world.

If this country's statutory censorship of films is hard to bear with, it is even worse to see an apparently increasing tendency for distributors to feel obliged to do their own pre-censorship. We can complain about official acts of censorship if we wish but have no means of knowing what is done by this other derogative, obnoxious, and in the strict sense of the term, irresponsible censorship.

Among those who have worked hard to advance the cause of censorship reform, I would perhaps single out David Gascoigne of the Working Committee for his adroit advocacy of our appeals and for his skill and sheer donkey work in codifying the reforms we seek in the Act.


In an area abounding in ironies it has been nice to see the retired British Censor, John Trevelyan firmly support our view that fims for adults should not be cut. He now believes that adults should be free to choose what they will see, having spent 20 years seeing to it that they couldn't.


A somewhat larger Working Committee met nine times to deal with censorship, film hire and other matters. The committee was strengthened by the regular attendance of Peter Gordon from Palmerston North and Peter Goodbehere from Napier and the presence at two meetings of Margaret Field from Auckland. Another increment of strength is illustrated perhaps by the impressively informative catalogue just released and the steady flow of news about what the Censor is doing, and how often. We owe much of this to the presence of members devoted to, and doggedly persistent in, uncovering and preserving archival information about films.

The committee's great coup, however, was in persuading Freda Young to become Secretary. She has dealt with a difficult job so well that she already seems quite indispensable.

Members of the Working Committee were:-
Harold White (chairman), Peter Gordon (President)

David Gascoigne, George Eiby, Peter Goodbehere, David Lascelles, John Lowe,

Vaughan Rosier, Lindsay Shelton, Dale van der Hoof, Cheryl Watts, Freda Young

The 1973 Annual Conference was warned that an increase in capitation fee was inevitable and the recommended increase can come as no surprise. Film costs are rising sharply and reasonable provision must be made to avoid irritating annual increases in subscriptions. The Committee takes some pride in having held the capitation fee at its current level for several years. The cost of a year's programmes will nevertheless remain remarkably cheap by any standards.



Membership figures are disappointing. Increases in Auckland and Wellington have been offset by losses in many of the smaller groups. It has been suggested that the type of film currently purchased suits the city, but not the country viewer.  If there is any truth in this view it still remains that far too little use is made of the permanent collection. Committees of smaller Film Societies might consider whether their programmes are suitably balanced for their potential audiences.

A serious problem, to which the Working Committee gave considerable thought without finding a solution, is caused by the number of small Film Societies. Several of these screen two programmes a month and the time and expense this involves for the Federation and the National Film Library can not easily be justified for the numbers concerned. It would be easier to justify this heavily subsidised service were it not for the fact that we are so dependent on the goodwill of the National Film Library, which has plenty of its own commitments without also assuming this burden. If we do not find our own solution I fear that the National Film Library may in the end be compelled to impose one.

The Programme Organiser will report separately but I would comment that film purchase is a demanding and time-consuming job with limited room for manoeuvre in selecting titles. This key job requires detailed knowledge, skill, tact, energy and tenacity, qualities possessed in abundance by Lindsay Shelton.


Film use remained at last year's very high level and it is difficult to see how any increase in demand could be accommodated within the present system. The help we get from the National Film Library, and from Ray Hayes in particular, is quite marvellous and is gratefully acknowledged.

Progress was made on most of last year's remits.
(a) The Censor agreed to give the "R - Film Societies Only" certificate in future only in the case of films that would be cut if shown
commercially. A legal opinion will be available at Conference concerning who may attend Film Society screenings of restricted films. Members will find that the type of certificate is clearly specified for each film in the catalogue and any confusion about the certificate's meaning can now be dispelled.
(b) The Committee supplied the Department of Education with the names and addresses of Film Society secretaries and a list of films available for use in schools. This information has been passed on to the schools. It would be interesting to know whether any schools have followed this up.
(c) No further film study films have been obtained although the British Film Institute has promised to inform us should any become available.
(d) The Federation provided $150 for a prize for an animated film made by children. The contest was a success and two remarkably good films have been sent to the international competition organised by BBC/ICOGRADA.
(e) Discussions are under way concerning the possible establishment of a University chair in film.


Our special thanks to the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council which continues to give generous financial support. I have already mentioned several of those to whom thanks are due. I would also mention Vaughan Rosier for his splendid efficiency as Treasurer. I can only add that while it has been given to me to have all the fun, it is the rest of the Working Committee which has coped with the drudgery of film bookings, preparation and compilation of the catalogue, and so on. Member societies owe much to these hard workers.



Harold T. White
Chairman - Working Committee
January 1974


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