Last month at TIFF, I reviewed a film called Out of the Blue, about the massacre that took place in the quiet town of Aramoana, New Zealand in 1990. David Gray, a lifelong resident of the town whose mental health had been deteriorating for some time, snapped and killed 13 of his neighbors, including four young children. The film is extraordinarily well-done and handles the events of that awful day with considerable restraint; even so, it was difficult for me to watch, and I wasn't a part of the tragedy. Director Robert Sarkies, a New Zealander who lived in a town near Aramoana at the time of the massacre, was very aware of the need to be sensitive in making this film, and as part of the process he met with residents, allowed representatives of the victims to read the script before filming began, and agreed to the conditions the people of Aramoana requested, including that he not film within the town itself.
When Sarkies spoke before the screening of his film at TIFF about working with the people of Aramoana in the making of Out of the Blue, and noted that, for the most part, the people who thought the film shouldn't be made were people who weren't directly impacted by the tragedy. Several of the actual survivors, in fact, met with the actors who were playing them. The New Zealand Office of Film and Literature Classification has given the film an "R15" rating, and Chief Censor Bill Hastings has added a descriptive note that "violence and content may disturb."
What makes all this a little unusual is that Hastings consulted with Aramoana residents to hear their thoughts on how the film should be rated, or if it should even be allowed to be shown at all. Sarkies, although happy with the rating, notes that Hastings consulting with the residents of Aramoana as a part of the process of determining a rating could set a dangerous precedent, and that he's not sure the subject of a film should be determining the censorship of that film. I can see how Hastings probably was just trying to be very sensitive to the victims and survivors of the Aramoana massacre, but on the other hand, the time for that was before and during the filmmaking process, and Sarkies already handled that aspect very well.
What do you think, readers? Should the real-life subjects of a film have a say in the film's rating, and in whether the film is even shown? It may seem like an easy call in a situation like this, where a film is being made about a mass murder, but once the precedent is set, where do you draw the line? Should Nixon or anyone else involved in Watergate have had a say in whether All the President's Men was shown to the public? How about Kenneth Lay with Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room? Should the people in charge of determining ratings for films be judging the film on anything other than its content in determining how much sex, violence and the like a film has? Or should issues like potential impact on the subject or an entire community be a part of the decision-making process?