Revisiting Graded’s 2017 Film Festival: When Freedom and Censorship Collide



About a year ago, during the 13th annual edition of the festival, trouble arose involving the content of some of the films due to their use of profanity and intense imagery. Still, the controversy surrounding the event serves as an opportunity for us to study its broader implications on the Graded Community. This concern caused administrators to submit a request for the projects to go through a content-based censorship process. The primary concern that was expressed by the administration wasn’t the intense imagery, but the amount of inappropriate language used in the films. In an interview with Mr. Fernandes, he expressed that, “it’s a matter of what isn’t in the movie.”


“Any nudity has to be non-sexual, and any swear words have to be used sparingly,” Mr. Fernandes continues. “And in the event of the specific obscenity we politely call the F-word, not used in a sexual context.” As a result, instead of rating these movies as Restricted (R) and potentially hindering the event for young viewers, Ms. Barbosa resorted to protecting the mainstream appeal of the Film Festival by removing profane language and worrisome images that have caused a disturbance.


In contrast, one of the filmmakers involved in the production of Catatonia, Santiago Cruz, expresses that these measures were enforced “too late, as we had already gotten close to finishing the final edit.” He went on to say that when these concerns were raised, “changing things would be a lot of extra work right before the festival.” On the other hand, Mr. Cruz recognizes that “[the administrators] wanted the film festival to be for all audiences.” After all, it all comes down to a matter of different views colliding with the right to censor.


After the complicated censure process, Mr. Fernandes also explained that the administration was just following certain norms within the film industry. This adherence included the fact that “mature themes are acceptable, but their treatment must be suitable for young teenagers,” and that “the use of strong language must be rare and fully justified by the content.”


Mr. Cruz believes that “the line should be drawn by the way the IB defines censorship.” However, he also believes that these interventions can only be allowed if “[the changes] can be justified as unnecessary to the film’s plot.” In the movie Catatonia, certain scenes containing profanity and strong imagery were left untouched, as they served the film’s dramatic plotline. Still, Mr. Cruz thinks that it was a reasonable measure to “tell the audience that our film had strong content and that small children should leave the theatre.”


As a result of these events, a ferocious debate regarding the topic of “censorship” emerged. In the hallways, students discussed, for about a week, the motives for why the administration erased certain scenes from the Film Festival projects. Still, it must be understood that restrictions are often implemented as a means of protecting certain aspects of society. For instance, American Airlines wouldn’t remove certain scenes from airplane films if it wasn’t out of concern for children onboard. This rationale is equally applicable to larger ideals which have been adopted over long periods of time.


By way of illustration, the reason why nudity and other kinds of discourteous imagery are absent on city billboards is justified by a societal notion that this type of communication shouldn’t be broadcasted outdoors. Despite that, Mr. Fernandes explains that he doesn’t even think that “censorship is the accurate word here as the changes that were required were in line with the IB requirements stipulated in the IB Film Syllabus.”


Another interesting concept brought up as a consequence of this controversy is freedom of speech. Although we – Graded students – as artists, writers, diplomats, athletes, and filmmakers are always allowed to express our freedom of speech in creative and innovative ways, this liberty is often treated with some limitations. Mr. Fernandes explained that intervention has always occurred throughout the history of the Film Festival “whenever a film producer has not adhered to the guidelines.”


Whether or not future editions of the Film Festival have been negatively affected by the administration’s ability to “censor” movies is a different debate. For the time being, it must be noted that one of the greatest aspects of freedom of speech is that it permanently allows us to support and express our own opinions. So, whether you’re a writer, debater, mathematician, or a filmmaker, just keep following your interests. After all, you’ll be positively serving the Graded community. And we’re grateful that you are.


Sources: CNN, Claiming Human Rights Organization