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"I Want Your Love": What the censors don't want you to see

"I Want Your Love": What the censors don't want you to see

OPINION

The Australian government’s recent decision to censor an American film containing six minutes of gay sex scenes has been condemned by filmmakers, free speech advocates and the gay community at home and globally. Starring James Franco and directed by Travis Matthews, I Want Your Love was scheduled to screen this week at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival. More than 700 people bought tickets to see the film, which has been screened in world class cities like New York, Toronto, Sao Paolo, London, Milan, Tel Aviv and Hong Kong – but not in Melbourne.

The movie debuted at the San Francisco LGBT Film Festival in June 2012, where a local critic called it “one of the most important queer films we’ve seen [in] a very, very long time”. The Melbourne Queer Film Festival applied to the Australian Classification Board for a festival exemption, which was granted to the Sydney Underground Film Festival (SUFF) to screen Donkey Love a year and a half ago. According to the SUFF Program: “Donkey Love is a documentary that introduces the unknown tradition of Colombians having sex and falling in love with donkeys.” Proudly sponsored by this paper, SUFF screened the film in Marrickville in September 2012, a year before Australia elected a hard-line conservative government and the calendar moved back more than 40 years.

In 1970, while much of the free world celebrated free love, the then conservative government led by John Gorton introduced the Australian Classification Board to protect the moral standards of the local citizenry. Nowadays, when anyone with access to a computer and the internet can download pornographic images, videos and content at the click of a button, the federal government’s attempt to prevent 700 film-goers from watching six minutes of gay sex is as bizarre as it is byzantine. It is also “embarrassing”, to quote James Franco, the actor whose performance has been banned.

I Want Your Love was still screening at the Castro Theatre in the heart of the city’s gay district a few months ago while I was in San Francisco. I missed the flick. Instead I spent my time at an alternative newspaper conference. Amid panel discussions on internet censorship, banner advertising strategies and how to make money digitally, I received an unusual proposition from the publishers of an alternative newsweekly in Seattle: would this paper be interested in helping to bring a successful independent porn festival to Australia?

Produced by Seattle’s Stranger, the Hump Festival is curated by the syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage, whose advice column “Savage Love” got its start in that publication and now appears in alternative papers all around North America and is podcasted globally. Six months ago, Dan was here in Australia at the Sydney Opera House’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas and appeared nationally on the ABC’s Q&A program.

Launched in 2005, the Hump Festival showcases homemade erotica in an annual short film competition. The festival has screened in cities across the US and Canada with many sessions sold out. This year’s line-up contains a smorgasbord of polymorphous perversity with a range of consensual passions under the microscope. What could be more natural? Straights do it. Gays do it. Groups do it. Two women exploring the boundaries of pleasure and pain do it. A disabled woman does it, exploring new uses for her walking stick. Anyone in Australia could easily download similar images onto their computer, courtesy of Google, were they so inclined.

Back in Sydney, I met with my old mate Craig Donarski – aka Master Tom co-founder of the Sydney S&M Hell Fire Club, former ABC identity, and the marketing director of the Sydney Film Festival – to get his opinion on whether or not it would be possible to bring the Hump Festival down under. After a discussion about how the festival exemption works in Australia and the politics of porn censorship locally, Craig went back and sounded out the Sydney Film Festival brain trust on the feasibility of getting it up here in Sydney, so to speak. Their answer was unequivocal: in light of the Classification Board’s recent decision to ban a film with only six minutes of unsimulated sexual activity between consenting adults, it is highly unlikely that the current government would ever allow the Hump Festival to be screened in Australia.

As a freezing chill blasts our once hot continent, the local climate has definitely changed. Guess we’ll never know what they’ve been lining up to see in Seattle, Chicago and New York City anytime soon.

Lawrence Gibbons is the publisher of Alt Media

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