Matinée too hot for Australia?

Posted on August 20, 2009

By Jennifer Lyon Bell

The loyal director and staff of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival are stunned that the Australian Film Commission is refusing Matinée the right to screen due to "sexual content". Today the festival director Richard Wollstencroft widely released a press statement of support (see here).

We’ve been pleased that both Headshot and Matinée are being accepted at regular film festivals as well as erotic film festivals.


We were particularly excited about Matinée‘s screening this Wednesday at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival.


However, at the last minute the Australian Film Commission (OFLC) refused MUFF the right to let our film screen, due to “sexual content.”


MUFF and its director Richard Wolstencroft pledge their support to Matinée. They’ve released a public statement to the OFLC defending the film’s artistic merits. They’re considering their options, including holding a “civil disobedience screening” in protest.


Stay tuned here for more details about what happens with the screening!


OFLC bans ‘Matinée‘ at MUFF

Richard Wolstencroft, Director

  • Today the Melbourne Underground Film Festival received knowledge that the OFLC has placed a ban upon the screening of Jennifer Lyon Bell’s Matinée as part of the Mini Muff’ shorts session. MUFF wishes to oppose this decision on two grounds.
  • Firstly, the decision negates the artistic merits of the film. While graphically sexual, Matinée’ is a picture which embodies many of the qualities which should be sought after in high quality artistic filmmaking. The lead performances are strong and memorable, and the direction and production design work twofold, both ensuring a subtle, entirely naturalistic feel, and a highly stylized, enigmatic and atmospheric world, the likes of which is often attempted in independent cinema but rarely so deftly achieved.
  • Secondly, and most importantly, MUFF opposes the OFLC’s decision on the grounds that it represents a hypocritical and troubling suppression of transgressive female-centric sexuality on film. The modus operandi of Blue Artichoke Films, Bell’s production company, is to create films which portray realistic sexual intimacy, depict empowered female characters, possess artistic merit and strong narratives, and do not fall back upon the damaging and often dangerous stereotypes of female sexuality that the Western media is accustomed to. In other words, Bell is looking to produce films about sexuality which women can enjoy, free of masculine control.
  • It is outrageous that the OFLC has sought fit to ban Matinée for the sole reason that it depicts actual sex. The sex depicted in the film, while real, is set within a relationship based on love and mutual desire. What we see in Matinée is two consenting adults (characters, not porn clich?s, with a deep and complex established relationship) making love. That is all. Nowhere in this film do we see any violence, sexual abuse, cruelty or malice; we merely see the intimacy which occurs between loving partners every day in real life. The fact that this depiction is considered to be too disturbing for an adult audience, and yet films which depict shocking and graphic violence and/or sexual abuse (yes, simulated, but made to look and feel real) are passed by the OFLC, is unacceptable.
  • Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist was recently passed by the OFLC for the Melbourne International Film Festival. This film depicts extremely high levels of sexual violence and genital mutilation, and encourages a phallocentric vision in its audience that touches on the idea that women are inherently evil. Matinée depicts actual sex between two adults in a loving and consenting partnership, and significantly it focuses on the importance of women’s pleasure in sexual intimacy, and presents a remarkably strong female lead. Passing Antichrist but banning Matinée reveals a tendency in the OFLC to suppress films which strengthen female sexuality on screen and to allow films which encourage view that female sexuality is damaged, fractured or violent.
  • There have been cases in the recent past wherein films depicting graphic actual sex within realistic, emotionally-toned and non-violent settings have been granted passage by the OFLC (MUFF points to Shortbus’ as one example), and MUFF asks only that the same considerations are granted to Bell’s Matinée, as not repealing their decision will brand the OFLC hypocritical, suppressive, and worryingly anti-women.


Jennifer’s letter to the OFLC:

  • To the OFLC:
  • I’m disappointed and puzzled by your decision not to allow my film Matinée to screen at this year’s Melbourne Underground Film Festival.
  • The sexual relationship portrayed by the characters Mariah and Daniel in Matinée is not only a consensual, emotional and nuanced relationship, but their sex plays an important role in the story of the film. The story is not tacked on to the sex; rather, the story has everything to do with the way the characters continue to communicate nonverbally throughout the entire sex scene. This nonverbal sexual communication is, at least according to the feedback on the film so far, an important part of why Matinée is seen by festival programmers as different from most of the other films they’ve seen this year.
  • I’d also like to point out that certain elements of the sex in Matinée — such as the inclusion of safer-sex techniques made crucial to the storyline  — create a more responsible depiction of sex than one frequently sees in either mainstream or art films, in which characters usually throw sexual caution to the wind under the guise of romance.
  • I hope this letter addresses whatever concerns you may have had about my film, but of course if you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me through the Festival.
  • With respectful regards,
  • Jennifer Lyon Bell
  • Director, Matinée
  • Blue Artichoke Films


Jennifer’s open letter to the press:

  • My film was just banned, and I can’t decide if I’m laughing or needing a drink.
  • I just got an urgent Facebook message from the director of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival, Richard Wolstencroft. Apparently the Australian Film Board is allowing all the unrated films at MUFF to screen next week, except mine. Though they give no reason except for sexual content, and they aren’t even required to necessarily view the film before handing down the decision (since they aren’t officially classifying it), they think Matinée can’t even be seen at an underground festival.
  • Seriously?
  • It’s just two characters enjoying sex in a realistic way that fits with their characters’ personalities. Consensual sex, nothing weird. Why on earth would that be dangerous to watch?
  • What’s weird is that mainstream movies spend hours building up the characters in a story, then mangle the lovescene with brusque camera cutaways and awkward sheet-covering bedroom choreography as soon as the moment arrives. You never see James Bond have sex; after a few witty double entendres it’s fade-out then fade-up with a lit cigarette and this is considered a perfectly acceptable depiction of sex on film.
  • Frankly, I’d like to know more about how James Bond does it. Is he a true sexual connoisseur, able to quickly divine each woman’s preferences and feel from her subtle reactions whether she wants her G-spot stroked or her hands deliciously pinned to the bed? Or is he an arrogant Casanova who uses some weird abrasive patented technique on every woman he sleeps with, smugly congratulating himself They all love it when I do that? I’d like the movie better as a whole because it’d tell me a lot about who he is. Plus, if he was good, it’d be really fun to watch, wouldn’t it?
  • The films that inspired me to mix explicit sex with story and character — Ken Park, 9 Songs, Shortbus — have all had rough roads. But I hoped that outside of America, my loving but prudish home country, everything would be easier. As it turns out, New York was no problem at all, and neither was Amsterdam (my current home). Strasbourg and Berlin festivals are happily screening it this fall. But Australia has a problem.
  • The MUFF team say they stand behind my film 100% and are considering all options, including a civil disobedience screening?. They’ve already formally protested the ban and sent out national press releases supporting Matinée. I don’t want anyone to get in trouble on my behalf, so I can only hope they know what they’re doing and have let them know how grateful I am for all their efforts.
  • I hope that the Australian Film Commission changes its mind. Not just for me, but for all the other filmmakers who are psyched to show stories where the characters go all the way. Those are the films I’d dodge a ban to see.
  • Jennifer Lyon Bell
  • Director, Matinée
  • Blue Artichoke Films


Press release PDF from Blue Artichoke Films on August 23, 2009 – download Blue Artichoke Films MUFF press release

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