2007-09-28 Elisavet Sotiriadou
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Film censor steps down in protest agaisnt censorship in Sweden

Film Director Gunnel ArrbäckFilm Director Gunnel Arrbäck
In Sweden, all films are subjected to the watchful eyes of one of the world's oldest film censors, Statens Biografbyrå from the National Board of Film Classification which is a governmental body. Now even though a movie hasn't been cut in over a decade, film Director Gunnel Arrbäck is opposed to the agency's censoring activity: Radio Sweden’s Elisavet Sotiriadou has this report:

When Gunnel Arrbäck became the director of the Swedish Board of Film Classification 26 years ago, Sweden only had two TV-channels and the cinema! The video arrived in 1981. Now she wants to get rid of the censorship for adults because the law they are working under is almost 100 years old.

“What I’ve been against for the last 15 years, is to still have censorship for adults in our country, which is a democracy. We have freedom of speech, freedom of expression – as a foundation in our constitution and the whole development of technology for moving pictures for the last 20-25 years also means that we are a bit obsolete, actually. Because we have control only over public viewing – that is cinema – while the public, when they take part of films or similar programmes do it in the cinema in about five percent of the cases. The other 95 come through other channels.”

What is it exactly you are censoring because you don’t censor any sexual scenes or sexuality or things like that, it’s mainly violence you’re focusing on?

“We haven’t prohibited anything for adults in the movies for about 12 years. So what we actually do is classifying. Saying, this is for all; this is for seven-year-olds; eleven-year-olds or fifteen-year-olds. But we have the possibility to prohibit a movie if we found that a movie or part of a movie might have a dehumanising or desensitising effect on people. What we judge are not the pictures in themselves but the possible effect they might have.”

And what was the last movie 12 years ago that you did censor?

From the movie CasinoFrom the movie Casino
“Martin Scorsese’s Casino. And he was not pleased. What he also did and was said that, “Well, I’m not going to show my picture in Sweden. They haven’t deserved to see it. But then he changed his mind and said that well, it’s better that they see a mutilated version than not at all.”

What was it that made you cut out those scenes?

“There was one torture scene and one scene at the end where people are beaten almost to death with baseball bats and then, still alive, buried. And those were very brutal scenes. And in those days we actually thought that this might have an effect on adults.”

In what way would it affect them – that they would feel disgusted, they will get scared or they would actually go out and do something similar themselves?

“If there is any effect of that kind that we are talking about, it should be the last one, that it should, well not going out and do the same thing exactly but feeling that this might be a possibility to get at someone you’re really angry with. But the conclusion that we have come to after that is that no movie or no number of movies in themselves can have that effect on people who are adults.”

Another thing that hit the headlines world-wide was 25 years ago, 1982 when E.T. came out and the Swedish Board of Film Classification decided that E.T. was a movie for eleven-year-olds and above.

“That is the one and only time that I’ve been on American television live. But one thing that you have to remember is that seven-year-olds in Sweden can’t read good enough to read the subtitles. We never dub films in Sweden, apart from those for very young children. So the movie still was in English, and much of the dialogue would be lost to seven-year-olds and younger of course. I think that was one of the factors, which of course the English speaking world wouldn’t understand.”

Logo of the Swedish National Board of Film ClassificationLogo of the Swedish National Board of Film Classification
And how did this explanation go down when you were on American TV?

“Well, I didn’t use that explanation actually. I made a sort of attack instead. Because I wanted to show some of the difference between the Swedish way of thinking and the American way of thinking. And so what I said was something like: well, we might have been a bit too protective for your taste but on the other hand in American movies, men make love to women with their pants on.”

When you cut something out, what do you do with those clips or – is it a piece of tape – where does it go – do you keep it in an archive or do you throw it away?

“We keep it in an archive, certainly. And it’s meant to be for ever and ever.”

Can anyone come in and have a look at what you’ve cut out?

“Oh yes, definitely. We have a long tradition in Sweden of being very open in everything that is what we call in the public sector.”

“But I don’t see a line of people waiting outside your offices here at the agency wanting to see the bits that you have cut out from previous years.”

“No, but I can tell you – in the 80s and the beginning of the 90s when we did cut a lot, every Easter, when school children about the age of 15 to 17 had read in the leading national newspapers about this public access to our archives, there was a line, a queue.”

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