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

Censorship Reform


Censorship and Censors have been on the mind of members of the film society movement for many years.


It goes back to the precursers of the present Film Society movement which dates from 1946. There had been a stirring of a film society movement in the early 1930s, but the nascent movement's wings were severely clipped when the Wellington Film Society screened an uncensored film, The Road To Life, on Sunday 15 July. This lead to a prosecution and eventual conviction, and a token fine of 1 pound 11 shillings, the cost of the proceedings. But the experience dented the enthusiasm for the Film Society and membership dropped away and it eventually closed in June 1936. The full story, and many other aspects of cinema in New Zealand were the subject of a thesis by Simon Sigley, then later published as Transnational Film Culture in New Zealand published by Intellect Books.


The first mention of censorship issues in the post-war period is found in the Monthly Film Bulletin February 1948, in which the Wellington Film Society questoned officialdom about the status of Indonesia Calling  (Joris Ivens, Australia 1946), a short film produced by the Waterfront Unions of Australia. In the Monthly Film Bulletin March 1948 reported that the question of Indonesia Calling was raised at the Society's Annual General Meeting. And a follow-up was reported in the Monthly Film Bulletin April 1948 


Brighton Rock (John Boulting, UK 1947), from a novel by Graeme Greene and starring Richard Attenborough, also ran into trouble in 1948. In the Monthly Film Bulletin October 1948, the editor John O'Shea had quite a bit to say, and also took the opportunity to reprint an appropriate article by a Hollywood screen writer. Further comment on the fate of Brighton Rock was made in the Monthly Film Bulletin December 1948


The Monthly Film Bulletin March 1949 , contained the annual report of the Wellington Film Society, which included the first mention that the NZ Film Institute's print of The Blue Angel had not been approved for screening by the censor. When the film had first arrived in the country, the then censor had refused a certificate, it then went to the Appeal Board, which upheld the Censor's decision - but the act did not allow for a further appeal. 


In May 1949, the Monthly Film Bulletin of the Wellington Film Society announced that "The appointment of Gordon Mirams as Film Censor will be received with much gratification by members of the society. Mr. Mirams was the first President of the Wellington Film Society and was largly responsible for its establishment. At the end of 1947 he was appointed to a post in the Film Section of UNESCO in Paris. He is expected back in New Zealand this month. The Public Service Commission is to be congratulated on their appointing to this difficult position a man who has such a wide knowledge of film and who will be unlikely to succumb blindly to the thoughtless prejudice of pressure groups." In the Monthly Film Bulletin December 1949 the editor, John O'Shea, interviewed the new censor after a few months on the job.


In the Monthly Film Bulletin July 1952 there appeared a report headed Canute, Cutting and the Censor, which summarised the NZ Censor of Films' annual report to Parliament. The case of The Blue Angel arose again in 1953. The new Censor, Gordon Mirams, friendly to the film society movement, came up with a way, within the act, for The Blue Angel to be seen in New Zealand. Films of the Month June 1953 outlined the background and process for it's first screenings in Wellington in July 1953.


In 1954, there was uproar around the country about the activities of youth in the Hutt Valley. This resulted in an enquiry headed by Queen’s Counsel Oswald Mazengarb, who was appointed by the government to chair a Special Committee on Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents on 23 July 1954. The committee was set up after an outcry over teenagers’ behaviour in Lower Hutt and other incidents around New Zealand. The Film Society showed concern and wondered how it might affect film censorship. It was first mentioned in Films of the Month September 1954 . By Films of the Month November 1954 lack of progress on new regulations was the main topic. The Wellington Film Society's president, Denis Garrett, returned to the subject the following year in Films of the Month April 1955.  The subject was again raised in Films of the Month May 1955.


The case of a nudism novelty film, Garden of Eden, was covered in Sequence, August 1955.


Finally, in July 1956 , news of the new Film Regulations was annouced! In March 1966 there was discussion of several censorship issues.


In Newsreel October 1966, the magazine of the NZ Federation of Film Societies, a whole issue was devoted to the subject of film censorship. The link has extracts from the censorship legislation and a list of films banned and appeal decisions between 1956 and 1966.


The slow progress in reform in succeeding years can be traced through the many articles that appeared in Sequence, the monthly magazine of the Wellington Film Society, which printed its first list of cenship decisions in April 1971. At the Annual General Meeting of the Society held on 23 February 1972, a resolution was passed expressing concern at the cutting of adult films. The Secretary was instructed to write to the Minister of Internal Affairs about the matter. The reply was printed in the magazine of April 1972.


But that response did not deter the NZ Federation of Film Societies meeting with the Minister to discuss censorship issues. There were two meetings, as reported in May 1972 and July 1972. But the meetings were in vain, see September 1972.


Despite the assurances given by the minister that the censor did not cut film society films, as reported in the July 1972 report, that promise was shattered with cuts made to Paarungen in May 1973. The film society censorship problems were overshadowed the next month, June 1973 when the Censor banned Last Tango in Paris. But the Film Societies struck back. The September 1973 issue of Sequence reported on a major speech on the subject given by Harold T White, Chairman of the NZ Federation of Film Societies.


The Cinematographic Films Censorship Board of Appeal gave it's decision on Paarungen in October 1973 and in November 1973 it's ruling on Last Tango In Paris. In both cases it upheld the Chief Censor's decision. In giving his dissenting opinion on the latter film, member Bill Sheat included a very valuable background to the history of film censorship in New Zealand.


The censorship situation during 1973 was summarised in some depth in the annual report by the president, Lindsay Shelton, to the Wellington Film Society in February 1974. The 1974 film society season got underway similar to 1973, when the censor demanded a cut in one of the important films in the programme, The Bookseller Who Gave Up Bathing, as reported in April 1974.


But the tide seemed to be turning. In May 1974 Sequence reported that a private members bill to amend the censorship laws, had been introduced into Parliament. The bill was set down for its second reading on 29 May, but on that date it was moved to the bottom of the order paper, as reported in July 1974.


The Third Wellington Film Festival suffered two censorship issues, see August 1974. As the year drew towards its end, there was still no sign of the official government bill on film censorship, see September 1974. Once again the censorship situation during 1974 was summarised in Lindsay Shelton's annual report to the Wellington Film Society in February 1975.


The National Business Review also summarised the 1974 year in its annual review Censorship: and so the battle raged.


1975 got underway with much discussion of film censorship at the Annual Conference of the NZ Federation of Film Societies, as reported in the March 1975 issue of Sequence. In the April 1975 issue, several censorship issues were covered. As reported in May 1975 the Hunt bill was reintroduced into parliament and in June 1975 Sequence urged film society members to support the bill and in July 1975 reported on the response to that request.


August 1975 proved to be an eventful month in reporting censorship issues. In the dated link are the details of yet another Appeal Board decision on Last Tango In Paris and a report on an editorial in The Dominion on censorship. Deserving a report on its own is the fallout on the screening of an uncensored print of The Night Porter in Wellington for two weeks. Also, during the Wellington Film Festival, the Australian director of Between Wars did something about the censorship of two words on the soundtrack.


Sequence of September 1975 reported two important moves. The Appeal Board decision on Lenny and the introduction of the long-waited government censorship bill into Parliament. The year drew to a quiet close with brief censorship reports in the issues of October 1975 and November 1975. Yet again, the President of the Wellington Film Society, Lindsay Shelton, summarised the censorship situtation in 1975 in his annual report in February 1976.


1976 got under way with a new government and the fear that all the efforts on reforming film censorship would have to be started again from scratch. However, the NZ Federation of Film Societies Conference, reported in March 1976, was addressed by the new Minister of the Arts, who said that he would refer the two censorship bills to a select committee. He wasted no time.  But the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards was not happy and wrote to the prime minister, as reported in the Dominion on 24 February 1976: Society opposes film move. Alan Highet's move was reported in Sequence of April 1976, and by May 1976, the openings of proceedings was mentioned. The major submissions were summarised in June 1976. (The complete submissions are also available from this link.)


In July, Sequence reported that the Social Services Select Committee had finished hearing evidence on the two Censorship Bills. Some 100 submissions were heard in all and that the committee was expected to report its finding to the Minister in due course. The Cinematograph Films Censorship Board of Appeal was reported as upholding the Censor who had refused a certificate for the amended version of Sandy Harbutt's Stone, until specified alterations were made. Background to the censorship problems of Stone were outlined by John O'Shea in his submission to the select committee studying the censorship bills. See Pacific Films as Distributors.


In September 1976, Sequence reported on greatly increased charges for censoring films, while in October 1976 it reported on a delegation to the Minister asking about progress on the Bills and protesting the raised charges. There was also reports on Appeal Board decisions on Gator and Goodbye Norma Jean. In November 1976 there was a report of a most unusual event - the case of The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea. Lindsay Shelton, still President of the Wellington Film Society, summarised the 1976 censorship situaton in his annual report in February 1977, along with news of the new Cinematograph Films Act. That same issue reported the sudden death of the chief film censor, Mr Douglas McIntosh, and covered four decisions of the Appeal Board.


The April 1977 issue of Sequence summarised the new criteria to be taken into account by the censor under the new Cinematograph Films Act which took effect on the first of the month, and in the May 1977 issue, the associated regulations were reported on. In July 1977 Sequence reported the appointment of a new chief censor, Mr Phillip McHale, and the appointments to three statutory boards under the new Cinematograph Films Act. After four months of censorship under the new Act, Sequence was able to report that far fewer fewer films were being cut, and in October 1977 reported on how Last Tango in Paris fared this time around, and introduced yet another new chief censor. At the Federation's Annual Conference the following year, chairman David Gascoigne summarised his view on the censorship reform.


The Cinematograph Films Act 1976 came into force on 1 April 1977, but decisions of the Films Censorship Board of Review were not made available to the public until they started appearing in the New Zealand Gazette of 5 April 1979. The decisions on four films, Scandalo, Immoral Tales, Born Losers and Tommy appeared in the June 1979 issue of Sequence. Then the following issue, July 1979, carried a review of The Pom Pom Girls.


In October of 1978, the government was already signalling some amendments to the film censorship legislation, with a press statement from the Office of the Minister of Internal Affairs headed Film Censorship Law To Be Amended. At least 20 organisations made submissions to the proposals in The Films Bill in September 1980, including a 79 page effort by the Society For Promotion Of Community Standards and a more modest 16 page one from The New Zealand Federation of Film Societies. We won't reprint them here, but David Gascoigne, who prepared the Film Society submission, outlined the result to the Annual Meeting of the NZFFS in Feburary 1984 in his Report on the Films Bill. The Films Act came into force on 1 April 1984. The Department on Internal Affairs put out a memo to all exhibitors and distributors outlining the New Regulations.


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