Attention: Film & Literature Board of Review (FLBR)
Re: End of the Spear (DVD 113 min 30 sec in length. Classified R16 By Chief Censor’s Office – the Office of Film and Literature Classification [OFLC]).)
The Society contends that the DVD feature End of the Spear, which is virtually identical to the 35 mm cinema version of the film that is currently screening in a number of New Zealand cinemas, should be classified by the Board as an unrestricted publication with a rating “M – Recommended for mature audiences 16 years of age and over.” It should carry a censor’s descriptive note such as: “Contains medium level violence including depictions of tribal warefare”.
The 35 mm version of End of the Spear has recently been reclassified by the New Zealand Film and Video Labelling Body (FVLB) as unrestricted (M: “Contains medium level violence”), – downwards from R16 – following a successful appeal by the distributor who pointed out that it had been wrongly cross-rated by the FVLB with the R16 DVD version. The distributor successfully argued that it should have been cross-rated, by law, with the identical publication classified unrestricted by the Australian censors, NOT the DVD version.
The FVLB therefore acknowledged that it had erroneously classified the 35 mm version as R16 – having erroneously cross-rated it with the DVD version (a different publication based on feature length) that had been classified by the New Zealand Chief Censor’s Office as R16. It is the latter classification (R16) of the DVD publication that the Society, supported by the DVD distributor Manna BookStore, is seeking to have reviewed by the Film and Literature Board of Review.
Concering the DVD publication:
1. This film was classified in the United States as unrestricted and recommended to viewers 13 years or older (PG-13).
2. In Australia the identical publication can be viewed legally by those 15 years of age or older; or those 15 if accompanied by an adult or guardian;
3. The medium level violence is not gratuitous, it is a historical record of low impact, and integral to the storyline.
In terms of s3(1) of the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act (1993) [“the Act”], the DVD publication deals with matters of cruelty and violence. (See s. 3(3)(a)(i): “the infliction of serious physical harm, or acts of significant cruelty”). However, note that S.3(3)(a)(i) is preceded by the statement:
” In determining, for the purposes of this Act, whether or not any publication … is objectionable … particular weight shall be given to the extent and degree to which, and the manner in which, the publication – (a) describes, depicts, or otherwise deals with – (i) … the infliction of serious physical pain, or acts of significant cruelty.” [Emphasis added].
It is the Society’s contention that if the Board is to place restrictions on this film because of the identification of activities identified under 3(3)(a)(i), it must (“shall” is a legal imperative) place “particular weight” on demonstrating how “the extent and degree to which” each depiction of violence/cruelty, in practice, would constitute the film “objectionable” and “injurious to the public good.”
The Society believes that an R16 age restriction cannot be justified when such factors are considered carefully in the light of the overall Christian message of the film and its context. The task of the filmmaker is to tell a true story in which the martyrdom in 1956 of five young Christian missionaries at the hands of a notorously violent and ruthless tribe is central and do it in a way that the Christian themes of forgiveness and reconciliation are not subverted, overshadowed or corrupted by any hint of gratuitous depiction of violence and/or cruelty. Consequently, it is no surprise that when the filming techniques used, are competently analysed, the methodology used negates any possible gratuitous gain that could be made by any prolongd focus on the actual infliction of bodily harm or cruelty. For example, the searing physical impact of weapon thrusting and bodily penetration is absent, as are all the special effects used by film-makers in films that do depict gratuitous violence. The actual impact of weapons is off-camera and almost all of it is left to the imagination. The infliction of pain and cruelty is therefore largely implied directly or hinted at indirectly.
The barbarous and cruel nature of the Acau Indians is not played down. How can it be? It is an important feature of this documentary. It is revealed in a manner that is sufficiently realistic to make the true story credible and provoking.
Yes, there are a number of depictions of the infliction of serious physical harm and acts of significant cruelty throughout the feature, most of which are carried out by Auca tribesmen and women. The Acau are presented as a violent, cruel and savage tribe, who were almost on the verge of self-annihilation, as they fought not only other tribes, but themselves. The missionaries were passionate about bringing the message of God’s redeeming love in Christ to these people and see the outworking of that message bring peace and reconciliation.
There is a sequence near the beginning of the feature where a group of tribesmen attack other members of the tribe with spears and machetes at night time, while they are sleeping. A male warrior murders a baby in front of the older brother using a machete. The impact of the violence is off-camera and much is left to the imagination. It is medium level violence.
The strongest sequence of violence within the feature is when the five missionaries are slaughtered by a group of tribes people. Christian missionaries Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Jim Elliott, Pete Flemming and Ed McCully — were murdered by a tribe of Indians whose reputation was legendary for its violence.
The strongest depiction is of Steve’s father, Nate being speared to death. He is speared in the upper chest and is then filmed very briefly in close-up from above, as he grasps the spear with his hand. A fleeting image of blood running from the wound over his chest is shown, emphasising that he did not die immediately..
Another fleeting scene implies that a missionary is hacked to death by two women wielding machetes. All the action is implied as the filming is confined to above the women’s waists.
A lot of the violence is implied and the film merely presents the aftermath of it, such as men lying with spears in their bodies.
There is nothing gratuitous about the way the film depicts the violence and it is not dwelt upon at all.
The film which won the Grand Prize for Dramatic Feature at the Heartland Film Festival (2005)
is clearly intended for mature audiences and should be rated M.
We would urge the Board to reflect upon the following facts:
The DVD Treasure Island directed by Byron Hastin and released in 1950 is based on the famous well-loved story by Robert Louis Stevenson. It has been rated G – for general audiences (unrestricted), in both Australia and New Zealand, and yet it contains acts of serious physical harm and acts of significant cruelty. For example, the late Bobby Driscoll (d. 1968), who plays the leading role of young Jim Hawkins, is savagely set upon by a treacherous mutineer while he cowers in a perch on top of the mast of a sailing ship. A knife is thrown at Jim by the mutineer at close range with considerable force and peirces his shoulder blade. The excruciating pain is conveyed in close up shots of his grimacing face and blood spills from the wound as he hauls himself in an ungainly manner down from the mast and then staggers across the deck of the ship. Young Jim fires a loaded pistol directly into the face of the attacking mutineer at close range from the crows nest and the camera zooms in on the mutineer’s face and later his body as it plunges to the deck far below, bouncing off the railings on its descent. A number of other scenes depict viscious hand-to-hand combats involving swords and knives with numerous body piercing and blood letting. One scene shows a knife thrown by a sailor at his fellow mutineer and the camera closes in on the point of penetration revealing a gaping wound and gushing blood. The sailor staggers in anguish across the deck before he slumps to the floor, blood oozing from his body.
The Oscar winning film Dances with Wolves, directed by and starring Kevin Costner, was rated PG-13 in the USA and M (unrestricted) in both Australia and New Zealand. It contained numerous violent scenes involving “.. the infliction of serious physical harm, or acts of significant cruelty”. It won best picture Oscar for a Western. The blood-thirsty clashes between the Sioux and Pawnee Indians and whitemen are graphically depicted. The scalping of whitemen and the gruesome bloody slaughter and butchering of buffalo are all depicted in sickening close range. In one memorable scene an Indian warrior stranded on his horse in the middle of a river is surrounded and set upon by tomahawk weilding enemy warriors. The soundtrack is overwheming. The river is flushed red with blood and corpses litter the streambed. The violence is not depicted in a gratuitous manner but it has a strong impact on the viewer.
These two examples – one a G-rated film – the other M rated – serve to highlight the point the Society wishes the Board to address. Is the “extent and degree to which, and the manner in which, the publication [End of the Spear]” such that the publication as a whole should be considered “objectionable” to the extent that it be restricted to those 16 years and older. The Society concludes it should not be rated R16. The limited violence is inegral to the historical documentary and is not depicted in any gratuitous manner. A censor’s descriptive note as suggested, is all that is required to a film that should be rated M – like the 35 mm version now screening in NZ cinemas.
The Society is aware of no complaints that have been raised about the scenes depicting tribal violence in this DVD version of the film. The 35 mm cinema version has been screening at a commercial theatre in Otaki, on the Kapiti Coast (“Coehaven”) run by our Society executive member and former preident Grahsam Fox. No complaints have been received by him about this M rated film..